When Donna Belas joined Cornell schools in 1972, she did not imagine her career path would lead to the district's top administrative post more than 35 years later.
The school board named Ms. Belas, 57, of North Fayette, the acting superintendent last year and is scheduled to appoint her superintendent tonight.
"I came here as a student teacher from Pitt, and never did I think I'd become the superintendent," Ms. Belas said.
But the advantages of working in a small district have kept the English teacher-cum-administrator in Cornell for the long haul.
"Nowadays it is sort of unique because administrators, and even some teachers, move from district to district," Ms. Belas said. "I've just been fortunate enough to have a wonderful experience here and some opportunities I maybe wouldn't have had in a larger school district."
School board president Karen Murphy is delighted.
"We are super excited to be able to do this," she said. "Donna gives 110 percent every day -- has always done that."
Mrs. Murphy, whose children were taught by Ms. Belas over the past couple decades, said the board was "pleased, excited and relieved" when Ms. Belas decided to attain certification to become a superintendent.
"Donna is just such a good fit for the building," she said. "I can't imagine the building running without her."
Cornell, which serves Coraopolis and Neville Island, is one of the smallest school districts in Allegheny County, with about 700 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, all housed in one building.
Working in a small district means doing "everything from the setup to the cleanup," Ms. Belas said.
"It really gives you a broader view of the operation of the school district," she said. "Because you have your hands in everything, you know how things work and what things need to change and not be changed. In an atmosphere like that, you do get back twofold from people. I don't ask them to do anything I haven't done myself at some point in my career here."
Ms. Belas has been with Cornell long enough that she has taught the parents of many current pupils.
"That's a nice thing because you really get to know the students and their family members very well," she said. "And they work with you, so that works, I think, to an administrator's advantage."
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1972, Ms. Belas joined the district as an English teacher.
She earned a master's degree from Pitt in 1974 and went on to teach until 2002. Over the years, she taught English in grades seven through 12, as well as journalism, creative writing, filmmaking and related subjects. She sponsored many clubs and extracurricular activities such as the school newspaper, yearbook and spelling bee.
Ms. Belas earned special education, supervisor and principal certifications from Duquesne University, and from 2002 to 2005 she served as supervisor of special education and alternative programs.
Ms. Belas was building principal from 2005 until fall 2008, when the school board named her acting superintendent. Pulling double duty, she also served last year as high school principal.
In June, she earned a superintendent's letter of eligibility from Westminster College and looked forward to assuming the head post in the district she knows so well.
Michael Lucas, the building principal, said Ms. Belas was the best possible pick.
"It's kind of her school," Dr. Lucas said. "She has been here for a very long time. She's very passionate about what she does. She takes a lot of pride in Cornell. As far as educational leaders, there are few that are as dedicated to the district."
Ms. Belas, originally from Brentwood, lived in Moon for 25 years before moving to North Fayette. She has a daughter, Jennifer, and granddaughter, Ava Marie.
"I'm one of the lucky people who has a nice career and looks forward to getting up and coming to work every day," Ms. Belas said.
"At this point in my career, I would like to continue to sustain the wonderful programs that we have in place and just make sure that we take advantage of every opportunity for our school district that's out there."
Freelance writer Andrea Iglar can be reached in care of firstname.lastname@example.org .