During his 27 years as a public school superintendent, John DiSanti has weathered many ups and downs, and through it all, he has remained focused on the heartbeat of his job.
"You have an opportunity each day to set an example to inspire people to want to give their best to help kids be their best," Mr. DiSanti said. "When you're superintendent, you have to be the person that sends that message."
Mr. DiSanti, head of the West Allegheny School District for the past eight years, is set to receive the 2013 Distinguished Educator Award from the University of Pittsburgh's Tri-State Area School Study Council.
The award will be presented tonight at the organization's 65th annual banquet. More than 100 school districts and educational organizations belong to the study council, which is funded by members and the University of Pittsburgh.
Council director Diane Kirk said in a press statement that Mr. DiSanti "represents the best of our profession and has not only shaped a great school district, but has and is shaping education in our state and region."
Mr. DiSanti is serving this year as vice president of the South Hills Area School Districts Association, and he serves as a mentor to doctoral candidates at the University of Pittsburgh.
At West Allegheny, he leads a 58-square-mile district enrolling about 3,250 students from Findlay, North Fayette and Oakdale. By area, it is the largest school district in Allegheny County.
Mr. DiSanti said he views the award as a shared recognition of the West Allegheny faculty, staff, school board and community.
"We have a family atmosphere here, so an accomplishment of any individual is an accomplishment of the organization," he said. "You can't do it alone."
Since becoming West Allegheny superintendent in January 2005, Mr. DiSanti has overseen many projects, including a major high school renovation and the expansion of programs and services for students. Known for his drive and determination, he has focused on working together toward constant improvement.
"We've worked really hard to promote the culture that recognizes that excellence is a continuous process of renewal, that you always have to be striving to be better," Mr. DiSanti said. "We try to reach every kid and give them an opportunity to be successful."
Mr. DiSanti and his wife, Judy, a dentist, live in North Fayette and have seen all three of their children graduate from West Allegheny High School. Their daughter, Jana, 24, works in Chicago. Son Justin, 22, is a senior at Penn State University, and Jared, 19, is a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh.
A West Deer native, Mr. DiSanti earned a doctorate in education administration from the University of Pittsburgh, a master's degree in education from Westminster College and a bachelor's degree in music education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he studied piano, voice and percussion.
He began his career 37 years ago as a vocal music instructor and sports coach in the West Middlesex School District in Mercer County and later joined Deer Lakes School District -- his alma mater -- spending 11 years as its superintendent. He also headed Derry Township School District in Hershey.
Mr. DiSanti said public schools are the "fundamental rock of our society" and do more to help children than any other institution.
"We're providing kids with more opportunities today than ever before," he said. "At the same time, we're still hungry. You just have to get better and better, and you have to keep looking at ways to do that."
Mr. DiSanti remains passionate about teaching -- especially mentoring young teachers, principals and people aspiring to become superintendents -- and about conducting and playing music. He sometimes accompanies West Allegheny chorus groups on piano.
"I love what I do," Mr. DiSanti said. "It's a spiritual calling. We're here to make the world a better place, and we do that through kids."
Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: email@example.com. First Published March 21, 2013 9:30 AM