Penn-Trafford's new superintendent puts emphasis on community

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Like the mascot of the school district he leads, Matt Harris considers himself a “warrior,” and he hopes to spend the rest of his career fighting for students and residents of the Penn-Trafford School District.

“I don’t plan on going anywhere else,” said Mr. Harris, who was recently named the district’s new superintendent. “The nice thing about the district is that it’s a place you want to stay for life, a place you want to raise your family.”

Although he may be the new superintendent, Mr. Harris, 43, is not new to the district. He came to Penn-Trafford in 2007 as assistant principal for Level Green and Harrison Park elementary schools. Before that, he taught at a school in Prince George’s County in Maryland and then at St. Sebastian Regional School in North Belle Vernon.

At Penn-Trafford, the Hempfield native was promoted to other supervisory positions until he became assistant superintendent in 2012, serving under superintendent Tom Butler, who left to become the head of Altoona-based Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8.

Mr. Harris was named interim superintendent while the district conducted a national search for Mr. Butler’s replacement. The school board decided to promote Mr. Harris to superintendent.

Mr. Harris said he was thrilled with the board’s decision, which gives him “a firsthand opportunity to get involved in all aspects of the district,” which has 4,180 students and a staff of 270 teachers.

He said he plans to continue the district's practice of keeping spending down while achieving high performance. He said he is especially pleased that he will be superintendent during the district’s $32 million high school renovation project.

Mr. Harris is also excited about the district implementing foreign language programs for middle school students and increased information technology and science programs.

He acknowledged that in order for him to be successful, he will have to rely on his staff for support, including his new assistant superintendent, Scott Inglese, who currently is high school principal and will assume his new role July 1.  Mr. Inglese graduated from Penn-Trafford in 1985.

“Penn-Trafford is unique in how everyone works together,” Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Harris is a graduate of Clarion University and received a master's degree from Loyola University and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in Florida. 

When not concentrating on district business, Mr. Harris said he spends most of his time with his wife, Maureen, who is a teacher at the high school, and with his three sons, ages 16, 11 and 9, all of whom are district students. He enjoys reading, running and is a member of Sacred Heart Church in Jeannette.

He also enjoys being active in the community and interacting with people.

“I’m a small-town person,” Mr. Harris acknowledged. “I love talking with people, but more so, I love listening.”

As superintendent, he said he wants people to know that he will always be easily accessible to listen to their needs and ideas to improve the district.

“It’s all about the community,” he said.

Linda Metz, freelance writer:

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