Highlands moving elementary principal to Early Childhood Center | TribLIVE.com
Valley News Dispatch

Highlands moving elementary principal to Early Childhood Center

Brian C. Rittmeyer
Highlands School District
Highlands Elementary School Principal Samantha Perlik will become principal of the district’s Early Childhood Center in January, replacing acting Principal Cathy Russo.

The school educating the youngest students in Highlands School District is set to have its third principal this school year.

Samantha Perlik, principal of Highlands Elementary School in Tarentum, will become principal of the Early Childhood Center in January after the Christmas break, school board President Debbie Beale said. The Brackenridge school serves all of the district’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.

The district is looking for a new principal for the elementary school, Beale said.

Perlik will replace Cathy Russo, who was named acting principal of the Early Childhood Center in October following the resignation of Principal Heather Bigney.

Russo said Tuesday she is continuing as acting principal until Perlik takes over.

Bigney is suing the district in federal court, alleging that Superintendent Monique Mawhinney discriminated against her and threatened to fire her for taking unpaid leave and dating a former teacher.

That former teacher, Jason Smith, a fourth-grade teacher, resigned in February and has a separate lawsuit against the district alleging retaliation for using his leave rights last year.

Russo is named in both lawsuits. Russo had been assigned Bigney’s duties as principal while she was on leave, according to Bigney’s lawsuit.

Perlik is named in Smith’s suit, but not Bigney’s.

Russo was principal of the elementary school until July 1, 2018, when she was named coordinator of curriculum instruction assessment and funding programs for the district. Perlik replaced Russo.

Highlands has disputed Bigney’s claims but has not yet filed an answer in court. The district has filed an answer to Smith’s complaint, denying his allegations and asking for it to be dismissed.

The district said Smith has failed to establish a case of retaliation and states its actions on Smith’s employment were based on “legitimate, neutral and nondiscriminatory reasons.”

The district denies that Mawhinney directed Smith’s job performance rating to be changed or that she ever told Russo to change his ratings. The district said Perlik was Smith’s supervising principal at the time the rating was completed.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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