Greater Latrobe citizens want superintendent with long-term commitment |

Greater Latrobe citizens want superintendent with long-term commitment

Jeff Himler
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Greater Latrobe Superintendent Judith Swigart reflects on her more than 10 years at the school district while preparing to retire on July 31, 2019.

Larger elementary class sizes and inadequate communication with the public are some of the issues Greater Latrobe School District’s next superintendent should address, according to comments made this week at a public focus group discussion.

But most of the 18 people who attended the discussion in the senior high Center for Student Creativity indicated they’re happy with the direction the district is headed and don’t want a new superintendent to disrupt the educational programs and approach that are in place.

Steve Dominick, a Greater Latrobe native who has taught at three other districts, said he moved back so his family could take advantage of educational opportunities the district offers.

“Surrounding districts are closing schools, and we’re building schools,” he said, referring to the December opening of a new Latrobe Elementary School.

Several audience members at Monday’s meeting praised Greater Latrobe for its support of arts instruction and programs. Barbara Nakles, who chairs the Greater Latrobe School District Art Conservation Trust, said it’s important for the district to maintain partnerships with community organizations to keep that emphasis strong.

The partnership with the Art Conservation Trust resulted in development of the Center for Student Creativity and has supported a growing collection of student-selected art that hangs in the senior high hallways.

Monday’s discussion concluded Perry County-based consultant Tom Templeton’s 10-hour visit to the district, which also included soliciting input from Greater Latrobe staff and students. His firm is being paid $13,500 to help with the search for candidates to succeed Judith Swigart, who will retire July 31 after more than a decade as superintendent.

Templeton asked those attending to comment on the district’s strengths and areas that need improvement, while citing leadership skills the new superintendent should have. He said he’ll share common themes among the comments with the school board.

One parent of a special needs student said Greater Latrobe has been attentive to her child’s needs, while another parent said he’d like to see more emotional support programs offered at the high school level.

Several audience members said they want the next superintendent to have a long-term commitment to the district.

“This can’t be a stepping stone for a superintendent,” said Dominick. “We’re kind of like the Steelers (with coaches). We keep superintendents a long time.”

Former district teacher Linda Banker said the new superintendent should be “someone who knows our locality.” Her husband, Barry, said, based on his experience as a businessman, hiring from within existing staff offers the advantage of knowing the candidate’s strengths, weaknesses and commitment to the organization’s vision.

Gene Leonard, a former Greater Latrobe elementary principal and professor at Saint Vincent College, said the new superintendent should combine leadership with encouragement of teachers and respect for the opinions of others.

“Too often, people like to preach and teach,” he said. “They should actively listen to teachers, parents, students and citizens. There’s much to be gained.”

“You want a superintendent who is steady,” former school board member Kathryn Elder said. When faced with heated complaints, she said, “The ability to stay calm is vital.

The superintendent “needs to communicate, needs to be visible and needs to be an ambassador in the community,” said Jim Okonak, vice chairman of the Art Conservation Trust and treasurer of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program. “The school district drives this area.”

“The superintendent needs to be the glue to hold this all together,” Dominick said.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Westmoreland
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