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New Allegheny Intermediate Unit head credited with bolstering South Fayette

| Monday, June 29, 2009

Linda Hippert has nearly 20 years of experience running schools — good practice for the woman who will be responsible for services provided to Allegheny County's 42 suburban school districts.

"What you learn through experience — you don't get it out of a textbook — is the ability to understand people and realize what strategies need to be done to accomplish your goals," said Hippert, 54, of Upper St. Clair. "It's all about people, identifying what their strengths are and how you can develop those strengths."

Hippert will replace Donna Durno as executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit on Wednesday. Her salary will be $160,000.

The AIU board, composed of school board members from several districts, appointed Hippert in April after a national search for Durno's successor. Patrick Sable, former assistant to the executive director for finance, has been interim director since March, when Durno retired.

AIU provides more than 100 services, including special education, teacher training and programs for chronic truants. The AIU also oversees Duquesne City School District, PA Learners Online cyberschool and several support programs.

"It will play very well for her, since she has a very good grasp on the type of services school districts need and are willing to work with the intermediate unit to provide," Sable said. "She has a very deep perspective from a school district's standpoint."

Hippert started her education career as a math teacher at Chartiers Valley, her alma mater. She taught in Peters and Trinity school districts before completing her principal's certification in 1988. While at Trinity, Hippert did administrative work during preparation periods. That propelled her to an associate principal's position at South Fayette's Junior-Senior High School in 1990.

Hippert became acting superintendent at South Fayette five years later and was named superintendent in 1996. She inherited a district that was often characterized as a small "rural" school that couldn't match the high-achievers in neighboring South Hills districts.

"I think there was this belief that we couldn't compete with larger districts. We're surrounded by some great school districts," Hippert said. "The whole belief system changed in the district. ... Now, there's nothing the district can't do, so long as you're willing to put forth the effort."

South Fayette is among the county's top districts and its middle school was named a state Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 2006. Hippert is credited with helping the district develop a rigorous curriculum.

"The quality of education has improved greatly since she came in," said Jackie Fleisner, 47, of South Fayette, who has three children who graduated from the district and a fourth who is a senior. "People will miss her for her friendliness and upbeat attitude."

Hipper said she will continue to support South Fayette but realizes her new job requires her to help others as well. She plans to spend her first weeks on the job listening and learning.

That's a great start, Sable said.

"There's a learning curve, and it takes time to get your arms around it," Sable said. "But knowing Linda, and the energy she brings and the networking she has done, she will be able to accomplish it."

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