When Ed Wehrer, then executive director of Carnegie Library of Homestead, learned that non-educators with an advanced degree in business were now eligible to become superintendents in Pennsylvania, he applied for the top post in the Steel Valley School District.
In June, Mr. Wehrer was hired by a 5 to 4 vote of the school board to replace the retiring William Kinavey.
In light of the position's myriad of challenges -- financial, educational, labor, buildings and more -- Mr. Wehrer likes to think the change in state law this year was made because "a superintendent is closer to a CEO than to a principal."
"You are not able to take care of every detail of a $26 million [district budget]," he said. "I am responsible for every detail, but I cannot take care of every detail ... you must empower and trust your team," he said.
Mr. Wehrer utilizes his business, nonprofit and football coaching background in his new role.
"There are different aspects of my life's journey that have prepared me to be an effective leader for this district," he said.
Besides playing football, Mr. Wehrer was valedictorian of the Steel Valley High School Class of 1984 with a 4.2 grade point average.
He went to Yale University, which he called "an amazing place; the people you meet are from all over the world and are very bright and very driven."
But success is not confined to an Ivy League education, Mr. Wehrer was quick to note.
"I'm a firm believer that you get out of education what you put into it," he said.
After graduating with a biology degree in 1988, Mr. Wehrer worked at Carnegie Mellon University as a fermentation technologist.
At the same time, he began volunteering at his high school alma mater.
"I never set out to be a football coach, but I ran into then head coach Jack Giran, who asked me to talk to the staff about special teams stuff at Yale," he recalled.
"I came to that meeting and never left."
When Mr. Giran resigned in 1992, Mr. Wehrer became the new head coach and served until 2003.
After Carnegie Mellon, Mr. Wehrer worked for USX Engineers and Consultants as an industrial health technician and then did software programming positions at General Nutrition Centers and UPMC.
In 2007, Mr. Wehrer helped found the the nonprofit I-TEAM, or Ironmen Technology, Enrichment, Academics and Mentoring, a program which provides educational experiences for Steel Valley students outside of school, such as summer camp and robotics club.
As superintendent, Mr. Wehrer seeks to optimize his influence.
"Teaching project management fundamentals to my administrative team allows me to attack a broad spectrum of projects," he said. "I am limited on what I can do ... but if I can have 10 others working diligently on projects, I can maximize my impact."
A few weeks ago he emailed the staff -- administrators, teachers, cafeteria workers, crossing guards, volunteers and more -- asking all to think about: an instance in which they went out of their way to help someone in school; how someone helped them; and if they told someone how important their efforts are to the district.
"I place a big emphasis on 'internal customer service,' " he said of the exercise.
He said he is also a firm believer in strategic planning and will soon present his five-year objectives and initiatives to the school board.
The plan, he said, is to form a leadership team to guide strategic planning.
The mission is solid in his mind: "Steel Valley delivers extraordinary value to families," he said.
The key, he said, is for the district and community to work together because each impacts the other.
While the success of the district influences prospective homeowners and home values, the community supports the district with volunteers and through taxes.
"We must convince our residents that their tax money is well spent," he said.
Mr. Wehrer's new tenure may soon herald a major success: After 14 months, a new contract is expected to be finalized this month by the 120-member Steel Valley Education Association.
While the proposal was put together by a fact-finder of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, Mr. Wehrer said he likes to think the school board and teachers regard his leadership as valuable and that he is creating a team environment.
"There is no other job that has a bigger impact on the children or community as a whole," he said.education - neigh_south
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.