A newsmaker you should know: Upper St. Clair's Ghilani is Principal of Year

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It might seem obvious that the only child of two teachers would chose a career in education, but that isn't what Michael Ghilani thought when he started college. He wanted to be a doctor and initially chose pre-med as a major.

"But then I realized I really love kids ... and I didn't think I wanted to be in school that long," he recalled.

"But looking back, it is kind of funny when you see all of the schooling that I have now," said Mr. Ghilani, who has a doctorate.

Mr. Ghilani has been named the 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals. He is now eligible for National Teacher of the Year honors.

Still, Mr. Ghilani's first job out of college didn't point to the education field.

"I worked as a stock broker for three months, but I quickly realized it wasn't for me," he said.

He started entertaining the idea of working in education, and while employed in group homes for mentally challenged adults, Mr. Ghilani earned his master's degree.

He then worked as a guidance counselor at Plum High School and also directed the alternative evening educational program and taught social studies. Mr. Ghilani worked at Plum from 1996 to 2001, and then he went to Upper St. Clair High School as the assistant principal/dean of students. In 2006, he became principal.

"I like being able to have an impact on an entire system. I love solving a problem that no one else can solve," he said. "And I love being the conduit for staff, parents and students."

Mr. Ghilani said he was surprised when he found out that Patrick O'Toole, superintendent of schools, recommended him for the honor. Mr. Ghilani then had to complete a lengthy application.

One of the achievements Mr. Ghilani noted in the application was the "9 program" he helped institute. The program pairs upperclassmen with those about to enter ninth grade to help the transition to high school.

The students in the program often form ongoing friendships, Mr. Ghilani noted.

He has also established the Chinese and Asian Studies program, the Student Leadership Academy and the Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics program and STEM Center.

"I am really proud of the STEM program and center," he said. "We have worked with the FedEx Center in Moon for our advanced engineering students to work with the engineers there to solve a logistics program."

The students made a presentation to FedEx, and their solution may help the company save $400,000 in a three-year program, Mr. Ghilani noted.

"We are partnering with local companies to get these students real-life experience," he said.

Upper St. Clair also is hosting STEM Summer Academy and received grant monies to allow the school district to welcome students from other districts.

Mr. Ghilani also is one of only two members from public education to serve on the Carnegie Science Chevron Center STEM Advisory Board.

Barry Purvis, past president of the principals association, said applications are reviewed by a committee and the winners are selected according to achievements, programming and leadership skills. State winners go on to a national awards program.


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. First Published July 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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