Donna Belas has spent her entire professional career with the Cornell School District in jobs ranging from English teacher to superintendent. That comes to an end on June 30 when she retires after five years in the top job.
"I have done everything but drive a school bus," said Mrs. Belas, 62, a resident of North Fayette.
Aaron Thomas, 33, will be the next superintendent.
He's currently principal at Cornell High School.
The district serves 700 students in Coraopolis and Neville Island.
A native of Brentwood, Mrs. Belas first came to Cornell as a student teacher when she was getting her degree at the University of Pittsburgh.
Her other positions included special education supervisor (she holds a special education supervisory certificate) and high school principal for three years before she became superintendent.
"I hope that I made a difference in the lives of children. I know they made a difference in mine," Mrs. Belas said Friday when her retirement was announced.
Though she said leaving is "bittersweet," she is pleased that Mr. Thomas will be stepping up, praising his "leadership skills, integrity and motivation."
Mr. Thomas graduated from high school in Middlebury, Ind., and came to Allegheny County when he won a full basketball scholarship to Robert Morris University.
He earned a bachelor's degree in secondary education-social studies at RMU and a master's degree in instructional leadership.
He received his principal's certification from Westminister College and is currently working on his doctoral degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where he received his superintendent letter of eligibility.
Mr. Thomas taught one year at Perry Traditional Academy in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and then taught four years at Cornell High School before becoming high school principal in 2009.
Under the leadership of Mrs. Belas, Cornell Elementary School in 2010 was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Though proud of that achievement, she is quick to credit the faculty, staff and students for their contributions.
"Because our school district is so small, we utilize everyone to the max," Mrs. Belas said. Many of the faculty members have dual certification so they can fill multiple roles.
There is no professional public relations staff member, so Mrs. Belas writes news releases herself -- with the help of staff and faculty -- who she makes available to the media for news releases and announcements.
There also is no professional grants writer -- Mrs. Belas and faculty write their own applications.
They've landed many, including $1 million for after school programs that provide a range of activities from swimming and other sports to homework help and academic programs, including a hands-on science lab.
The superintendent even attends high school dances.
"Someone asked me why I seemed to know the parents who were chaperones. I said I had taught all but two of them when they were students here," Mrs. Belas said.
The elementary, middle school and high school students are all in the same building, so the superintendents sees all of them every day, she noted.
"The children are very respectful. Part of that may be because in most cases I taught their parents."
Like many retirees, Mrs. Belas plans to travel, including to Europe.
In the fall she will take her granddaughter, Ava, 4, to Disney World. Starting in the fall, she will teach graduate students at Waynesburg University.
The Cornell School District news release notes that Mr. Thomas "said he enjoys playing basketball."
That would be an understatement.
His high school alma mater, Northridge High School, in 2011 framed his All-Star jersey for display in the high school gym.
He was the first player at his high school to be named to the Indiana/Kentucky All-Star Basketball Team.
He also led his high school team to a No. 1 state ranking and scored 1,262 points in his high school career, including 47 points in one game.
At RMU he was the seventh person in the history of the Moon school to score 1,000 points and get 500 rebounds.
Mr. Thomas lives in North Fayette with his wife, Casey, and their sons Stone, 3, and Gavin, 1.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-722-0087.