Familiar face, big plans for Avonworth School District

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He may be Avonworth School District's new superintendent, but as the former middle school principal, Thomas Ralston is a familiar face to many students, especially those in the high school.

Taking over for Valerie McDonald, who retired after nine years in the district, Mr. Ralston, 46, of Chester, W.Va., began his career as a middle school science teacher in West Virginia. He served as a principal at two other middle schools before coming to Avonworth in 2006.

Mr. Ralston is completing his doctorate in education from Youngstown State University. He holds a bachelor of science secondary education from West Liberty University; a master of arts educational leadership studies from West Virginia University; and a superintendent letter of eligibility from Westminster College.

"It's great to work in a smaller district like this," said Mr. Ralston. "It lets me be really connected with the kids. I think the world of the community, the kids and the teachers. The opportunity to expand my role in the district is really exciting for me.

"As a principal, I could be in all my classrooms in any given day," he said. "Seeing more of the kids I had years ago who are now in high school is exciting."

Mr. Ralston said he also enjoys the opportunity to visit the schools and learn about what students are doing.

"In the beginning of the school year, I told the staff I will be hands on," Mr. Ralson said. "I told them I will support their ideas, and help them to find resources. I want to provide an education that supports kids in what they want to do later in life. I want them to be good citizens and have skills and a passions beyond high school."

Mr. Ralston said he plans on continuing to strengthen the district's connection with its community.

"We want to give back to the community and support it, so they can see the value of the school district even if they don't have kids in school," he said. "We ask folks to support the schools with their tax dollars. They should see the direct result of what we're giving back to the community."

Another area in which he hopes to see the district grow is in its arts programs. "Performing arts, presentations -- that's an important part of what we offer," said Mr. Ralston. "We want our kids to be passionate about what they're involved in, and we're fortunate to be located close to Downtown Pittsburgh, which offers opportunities through internships and other partnerships."

The new primary center is needed to alleviate overcrowding, he said, adding that it has been the result of a lot of people's hard work for a long time.

He said middle school enrollment increased from 329 to 357, which creates logistical problems for classrooms and facilities.

"We had to purchase new lockers," he said. "But it's a good problem to have."

education - neigh_north

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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