When Michael A. Panza became band director for Western Beaver County School District in 1982, the band had 63 students in grades five-12.
Three years later, the band had 185 members.
"I thought, if you can make a difference with a band, what can you do with a building?' " he said of what spurred his interest in school administration.
On Monday, Mr. Panza, superintendent of the Sto-Rox School District, was unanimously appointed superintendent of the West Jefferson Hills School District.
He will be paid an annual salary of $150,000 with a contract that runs from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2018.
Mr. Panza will be the district's first permanent superintendent since the board fired Terry Kinavey September 2010, after she was accused of improperly intervening in the hiring of a teacher and not being forthcoming about her actions.
For the past few years, district solicitor Ira Weiss advised the board that there was an element of risk in appointing a permanent superintendent until the lawsuits Mrs. Kinavey filed were resolved. Although all of the lawsuits are not settled, her five-year contract expires next month, eliminating the risk, Mr. Weiss said Monday.
In a prepared statement, board president Anthony Angotti said Mr. Panza was chosen because he is a strong educational leader with high morals and ethics and he is a visionary who puts children first in words and deeds. Mr. Agnotti also noted that he has 14 years of experience as a superintendent.
Mr. Panza, 55, has been superintendent at Sto-Rox and has three years remaining on his contract there. He served as superintendent of the Moniteau School District in West Sunbury, Butler County, from 1999 to 2005 and of the Carlynton School District from 2005 through 2011.
Mr. Panza said he was attracted to the West Jefferson Hills School District for its vision, growth and pending high school building project. He also said he was "extremely impressed" with the district's board members, parents, teachers, boosters and community members.
Until he starts in his new position July 1, Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, will continue as acting superintendent, and Hamsini Rajgopal, the district's director of human resources, will continue as acting assistant superintendent.
The nine-month superintendent search conducted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit yielded 20 applications, of which seven candidates were interviewed.
Mr. Panza, who grew up in Aspinwall, received bachelor's and master's degrees in music education and a master's in educational administration from Duquesne University. He received his doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and his letter of eligibility from Westminster College in New Wilmington.
He and his wife, Deanna, live in Cherry, Butler County. They are parents of four grown children and stepchildren. Mr. Panza's daughter, Katelyn Panza, is the McKeesport Area High School orchestra director.
Although Mr. Panza will have a nearly 90-minute drive to and from the West Jefferson district each day, the opportunity to make a difference in children's lives makes it worthwhile, he said.
"I get to wake up every morning and do something I love," he said.
Margie Smykla, freelance writer: email@example.com.