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Blairsville principal promoted to assistant superintendent

Jeff Himler
| Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, 1:57 p.m.
Heavy equipment is used to shore up an embankment along the west side of Blairsville Memorial Field as work continues to repair erosion that occurred at the football stadium during heavy rainfall last year.
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
Heavy equipment is used to shore up an embankment along the west side of Blairsville Memorial Field as work continues to repair erosion that occurred at the football stadium during heavy rainfall last year.

Advancements in technology and literacy are among the strides Jeffrey Soles plans to continue as he takes over the role of assistant superintendent at Blairsville-Saltsburg School District.

With Holly Hall absent and Mary  Whitfield participating by a remote video link, the school board on July 30 unanimously agreed to promote Soles, who had served as principal of Blairsville Middle/High School, to assistant superintendent. The latter post was vacated by Ian Magness' recent departure for a job with another district.

Meeting at Saltsburg Middle/High School, the board approved a five-year contract for Soles with a starting salary of $102,000.

Speaking on behalf of the Blairsville-Saltsburg Education Association, President Diane Antonacci congratulated Soles on his new position and said district teachers look forward to working with him.

In another administrative move, the school board agreed to recall from retirement Debra Shirley, the former Blairsville Elementary School principal, to temporarily serve as an assistant principal for grades K-12 at the district's Saltsburg school campus.

Pending approval of an emergency waiver from the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System, Shirley is expected to fill in for up to 10 months as a Saltsburg assistant principal. Since retiring in September of last year, she previously returned to her Blairsville Elementary post in November — filling in while that school's current principal, Joseph Baker, was on leave.

Following the July 30 meeting, administrators explained that Shirley will help Saltsburg Elementary Principal Tracy Richards, whose oversight will be expanded to grades K-12, until a new principal can be hired for the Saltsburg campus. It's expected that Allan Berkhimer, who had served as Saltsburg Middle/High School principal, will be transferred to the Blairsville campus to be teamed with Baker.

“I'm excited about it,” Soles said of his new, district-wide role. “We've got a great group of kids on both sides of the district, and we've got a great staff to work with, and the administration team's strong.”

Soles said he intends to help Blairsville-Saltsburg move forward with many initiatives that were launched during Magness' time at the district.

The district's recent technology initiatives have included providing an iPad tablet device for each high school student and Chromebooks for students at the middle school level.

With an initial three-year lease on the iPads scheduled to expire at the end of the coming 2014-15 school year, Soles indicated the district is planning for the next phase of the high school “one-to-one” initiative, which provides a device for each student, along with a technology upgrade for elementary students.

He said a new elementary computer system is expected to feature a Windows platform while providing “almost a one-to-one initiative... As the iPads come up on their lease end, those will be funneled down to the elementary for those students.”

Blairsville-Saltsburg also is in the midst of a multi-year Keystone to Opportunities grant program that supports improvement of literacy skills from birth through grade 12. In 2014-15, Soles noted, that program will focus on building vocabulary for district students.

As part of the Keystone to Opportunities initiative, the district also is expected to coordinate its efforts with those of groups providing literacy assistance to local preschoolers. To that end, the board approved Kathy Lupyan as the program's early childhood liaison for 2014-15. She served in the same capacity last school year, with her wages covered by the Keystone to Opportunities grant.

In the area of student testing, Soles noted, the district is looking to implement classroom diagnostic tests — to provide a baseline for student achievement as well as a periodic check to see how prepared students are for such state assessments as the Keystone exams.

In a related matter, the school board approved a proposed student testing schedule for 2014-15 year. Classroom diagnostic tests are proposed in reading only for grades 3-5, in reading and math for grades 6-8, and as needed in grades 9-12. The testing is to be conducted three times through January and once more, as needed, for placement data.

Soles said the district also is looking to make further enhancements to its security procedures — which recently have included placing retired state police officers in schools as armed resource officers and modifying building entrances to allow for screening of visitors before they gain access to areas where students are present.

As a possible next step, he said, the district is “looking at a card reader or an identification reader at the doors for all visitors.”

In other personnel matters, the school board hired two new teachers, Maureen Bell and Robyn Shaw. Each will start at the district Aug. 22 and will receive a salary of $50,000. Shaw will be paid an additional $200 for special education.

Brandi Muffie was hired as a long-term substitute special education teacher at Saltsburg Elementary at a prorated salary of $20,000, based on a 180-day school year, with no additional benefits. She will begin Aug. 22 with her length of service determined by student needs.

Leaves were approved for three staff member in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act: Justin Kulik, Saltsburg Elementary health and physical education teacher, approximate dates of Oct. 16-Nov. 3; Brittany Ciganko, business education teacher at Blairsville Middle/High School, for the fall 2014 semester; Bonnie Bell, Saltsburg Elementary instructional aide, intermittently, as needed through the 2014-2015 school year.

The school board approved a change in coaching roles for Blairsville's junior high volleyball team., with Tammy Smith and Ryan Conrad serving as co-coaches. Previously, Smith was the head coach and Conrad was the assistant coach. Ada Henigin will serve as an additional coach for the program.

The board additionally approved the following contracted supplemental positions: Brandi Muffie, Saltsburg band front adviser; Douglas J. Doak, head wrestling coach; Alexis McBride, assistant varsity girls' soccer coach; Ashley Meyer, Blairsville assistant junior high cheerleading coach.

Serving as volunteer coaches will be: Logan Grguric, Saltsburg football; Rachel Duchesneau, girls' soccer; Betty Branthoover, Blairsville golf; Alyssa Smith, volleyball; Mitchel Fox, cross country.

Responding to a request relayed by Blairsville athletic director James Buckles, the school board approved the addition of cross country as a club sport for girls and boys at the junior high level, at no additional cost to the district.

With one student currently expressing interest in the program, district superintendent Tammy Whitfield explained students involved in the club sport would practice with the varsity team and would work with varsity coach Dan Cunkelman.

Buckles said junior participants could participate in local events on an exhibition basis but may also have the opportunity to compete against Forest Hills and schools in the Altoona area that have full-fledged middle school cross country programs.

The school board approved an agreement with Saltsburg's Lifestat Ambulance Service to provide ambulance services in 2014-15 at a cost of $3,000.

Also approved was an agreement with the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission to provide a Student Assistance Program in 2014-15, to help any troubled students at the district.

The school board adopted a revised transportation policy that includes language about use of cameras to make audio and video recordings of activities on district school buses.

The policy notes that the cameras will be used “to monitor student behavior, to maintain order and a safe environment.” Recordings may be used in student disciplinary proceedings with the contents treated as confidential student records.

The board conducted an initial review of a proposed revision of the district's student wellness policy. Attached to the policy is a memo from Carolyn C. Dumaresq, Pennsylvania's acting secretary of education, setting forth a state policy for exempting some school-related fundraisers from new Smart Snacks in Schools Standards that went into effect July 1.

According to the memo, a maximum of five exempt fundraisers will be permitted in each elementary and middle school building per year, and a maximum of 10 exempt fundraisers will be permitted in each high school building per year. Each fundraiser may not exceed one school week in duration. The state policy was approved for the 2014-15 school year only and is to be updated for future years.

It was noted that the snack standards don't apply to fundraisers that take place after the school day, including food that is sold through a brochure sent home. Also, local school districts are free to establish lower maximums for fundraiser exemptions.

According to Blairsville-Saltsburg's proposed policy, snack items sold at school must contain no more than 200 milligrams of sodium per item, as of July 1. Also, no caffeinated beverages are to be sold to students in grades K-8.

The board approved use of the Blairsville Middle/High School wrestling room for wrestling technique sessions 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 9.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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