Retired Cornell superintendent fills in as elementary school principal

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Donna Belas is working, again in the Cornell School District after her retirement from the superintendent post lasted less than seven months. Now she’s the interim principal at the elementary school.

“I may or may not be here until the end of the school year,” Mrs. Belas said. Cornell officials are finalizing the hiring of a new principal, and the timing depends on when the candidate’s current school releases him or her from their current job.

Cornell Elementary School principal Sarah Shaw left Feb. 28 to become principal at Jefferson Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon. She had been the Cornell principal since Aug. 1, 2012.

Mrs. Belas stepped back into the Cornell school on Feb.26. She chuckled as she noted that more than one person has suggested her situation is like the quote from Michael Corleone in the “Godfather” movie: “Just when I thought I was out ... They pull me back in.”

“It’s like I never left,” said Mrs. Belas, who spent her entire professional career in the Cornell schools. “Teachers and students have been so pleasant and respectful.”

The school district serves 700 students from Coraopolis and Neville Island.

Because her job is temporary, Mrs. Belas isn’t making any dramatic changes, but said she had “a really fun activity” last Thursday, which was the United Nations International Day of Happiness. Everyone was encouraged to wear yellow shirts. Mrs. Belas took pictures of the elementary students and put them in a video using as musical background the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

The children really enjoyed that, along with the Eat N’ Park smiley face cookies ordered by Mrs. Belas.

In her retirement months, Mrs. Belas continues to live in North Fayette. She’s done some traveling, and enjoys spending time with her 5-year-old granddaughter, Ava.

She had worked for five years as superintendent, and three years as high school principal before that. A native of Brentwood, she first came to the Cornell district as a student teacher while a student at the University of Pittsburgh. Her other positions have included English teacher and special education supervisor. At the time of her July 1 retirement, she joked, “I have done everything but drive a school bus.”

Under the leadership of Mrs. Belas, Cornell Elementary School in 2010 was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Though proud of that achievement, she is quick to credit faculty, staff and students for their contributions.

Aaron Thomas, who had been principal at Cornell High School, succeeded her as superintendent.

The small school district does not have the budget for a professional public relations person, so Mrs. Belas has always handled those types of duties.

Last week, she sent out a news release seeking applications for the Alumni Wall-of-Fame. The deadline is April 7 for nominations of graduates who have received statewide or national recognition for their endeavors. Candidates can be graduates of Coraopolis High School, Neville High School or Cornell High School.

The Wall was started in 2007. In May, the newest inductee was Lt. Cmdr.  Jonathon A. Crawford, class of 1995, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Al Crawford of Coraopolis.

Applications can be mailed to Superintendant Aaron Thomas, Cornell School District, 1099 Maple St., Coraopolis, PA 15108.

For more information, call executive assistant Beverly Benson at 412-264-5010, ext. 100..


Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087

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