New Moon Area superintendent primes for growth

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Newly hired Moon Area Superintendent Curt Baker is faced with the task of ushering the students of Crescent and Moon to join the ranks of Pennsylvania's educational creme de la creme.

By becoming the district's top administrator, Mr. Baker has accepted a challenge set forth by directors to lead Moon Area into Pennsylvania's coveted top 1 percent.

A recent ranking among Allegheny County schools placed Moon Area at 53rd among the state's more than 500 public schools. Ratings are calculated on a school district's three-year average of Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores.

Mr. Baker who previously served as a school director at Unionville-Chadds Ford School District in southeastern Chester County and western Delaware County, said he understands the challenge is not an easy step.

The specifics of how he plans to achieve this goal are going to take some time to formulate.

"T-E-T-T -- too early to tell," said Mr. Baker, whose four-year contract paying $160,000 annually began Nov. 25.

He refers to Moon Area as a "very good school district with all the elements to be highly successful."

While he isn't ready to share the specifics on how these goals will be achieved, he did refer to some ideas he will be using, calling for a "relentless constancy of purpose."

He expects to see a "good solid lesson in every classroom, every single day," as well as adjustments made to curriculum, benchmark testing and more purposeful reading and writing or authentic literacy.

These ideas stem from author Mike Schmoker's 2011 book, "Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning."

Mr. Baker did not come to the title of superintendent through the traditional educational channels. He refers to his career in three phases of about a decade each.

Initially, he worked in the energy field for Conoco Inc. While there, he travelled in various developing countries for strategic planning, economic analysis and contract negotiation.

From there he began working as a consultant and then in November 2004 he joined the School District of Lancaster as chief executive officer.

He said he was brought in to help with financial issues as well as a loss of public confidence there.

"When your superintendent is thrown in the clink, you lose trust," he said.

Lancaster and its superintendent, Ricardo Curry, were investigated in 2004 for alleged mismanagement of funds with Mr. Curry ultimately being sentenced to two years in prison for hiring friends and family as district consultants. During the investigation, other financial abuses were also discovered.

When Mr. Baker joined Lancaster, the district had a negative fund balance of $3.4 million. During his time there, the district posted an operating surplus every year and finished the 2006-07 year with a $1.9 million fund balance, he said.

In 2007, he moved to Virginia and became deputy superintendent for Roanoke City Public Schools, a primarily urban school district providing instruction for approximately 13,000 students in grades pre-K through 12.

At the time of the move, "a friend, with his sense of humor," gifted him with an authentic metal deputy star poking fun at the title of his new position. While not on display, the star can be found in his Moon Area office decorated mainly with paraphernalia from University of Southern California, where he received his undergraduate degree. He graduated summa cum laude and first in his class with a 4.0 grade-point average.

His master's degree is from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Mr. Baker's scope of responsibility while at Roanoke included finance, facilities, technology, transportation, food services, athletics/student life, payroll, purchasing, warehouse, human resources and student services.

According to Mr. Baker's resume biography, fund balance at the Shenandoah Valley district has increased from $6.6 million in 2007 to $35.5 million today.

Mr. Baker replaces former superintendent Donna K. Milanovich who announced her retirement in May, leaving the post June 28 after holding the position for six years.

Caroline Johns, who had been serving as acting superintendent for the district, now holds the position of acting assistant superintendent. She replaces Cynthia Zurchin, who left June 28 to become Ambridge superintendent.

Mr. Baker has taught in Widener University's department of economics, the University of Houston's graduate school of business administration and Hampton University's leadership academy for educators.

He and his wife, Debbie, have been married for 29 years and have two sons. Joe graduated last year from Pennsylvania State University's Smeal College of Business, and Chris is currently a freshman there.

A copy of the superintendent's contract with the district can be found online at www.moonarea.net/206/about.

Sonja Reis, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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