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Beattie vocational director set to retire

| Saturday, Jan. 26, 2002

With a heavy heart, Dan Balcer took off the yellow smiley-face pin that he has worn on his lapel every day for the past three years as the vocational director of A.W. Beattie Technical School in McCandless.

Balcer's will retire Feb. 8, the anniversary of his 30th year of service in education. He came to Beattie in July 1999 after stints at Steel Center Area Vocational Technical School and Beaver County Area Vocational Technical School.

Balcer, 55, of Ambridge, did not discuss his retirement plans.

Beattie's board of directors accepted Balcer's retirement Thursday, with members praising him as a driving force behind the school's revitalization and reorganization of the school, once regarded as the "dumping ground" for problem students, as one director put it.

Beattie serves nine school districts in the North Hills — Avonworth, Deer Lakes, Fox Chapel Area, Hampton, North Allegheny, North Hills, Northgate, Pine-Richland and Shaler Area.

"Under Mr. Balcer's tutelage, programs like Cisco (a computer networking company) have come to Beattie, as did Oracle," said James Fisher, Beattie board president and a Shaler Area School Board member. "Dan Balcer has been the mouthpiece, going out to the school districts and selling Beattie. … We were at the bottom of the pit. We needed a cheerleader.

"It's a sad moment to have to go through this exercise."

Fisher said Balcer enforced school standards, which helped reduce the number of students who did not wish to perform academically. That resulted in enrollment dropping from 725 when he started down to the mid-500s by the end of that school year. The school now has 630 students but started the year with 695. Balcer had anticipated 725 this year, but schedule changes at Northgate prevented that goal from being met.

Sherman Snyder, Beattie board vice president and a Fox Chapel Area School Board member, said he has seen nothing but improvements at Beattie under Balcer's tenure.

"I've seen standards raised. The enthusiasm has increased. Beattie is back on the radar screen of the parents, as well as the business community," he said.

Michael Slavinski, executive director of the Northern Area Special Purpose School, of which Beattie is a part, said Balcer revitalized Beattie.

"He made it one of the finest vo-techs in Allegheny County, and I've seen vo-techs in other counties," he said. "Many of our counselors were amazed at (Balcer's concept of work ethic). They were very impressed."

Balcer, who made around $74,000 a year in his position, said he had a "love affair" with Beattie and was grateful that the board and Slavinski allowed him the freedom to run the school as he saw fit.

"It gave me an opportunity to run a building from love," he said "Everything I've done has been what's best for the school without a bit of fear. I'm lucky to have come to Beattie."

Paul McCauley, a Beattie board member and Northgate School Board member, said it is obvious that Balcer loves the school.

"This is a guy who stands out there and greets the kids as the buses come in, shaking their hands and patting them on the back," he said. "He's been good for Beattie, and he's been super good for our kids."

Balcer, who predicted an enrollment of 800 next year, left his smiley-face button with the board to give to his successor.

"If we don't have 800 kids next year, I'd be really surprised," Balcer said. "If we don't, you can fire me."

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