Cornell School District superintendent Donna Belas is a former English teacher, a lover of books and a voracious reader.
When she recently announced her retirement, teachers and staff, looking for a special way to honor her, came up with a fitting tribute and managed to keep it a secret until the very last minute.
At the end of the annual academic awards night on May 8, members of her family were brought on stage, including her only grandchild, Ava, who carried a plaque.
School board President Jeff McBain announced that the school district library will be become known as the Donna M. Belas Library -- the lettering engraved on the plaque that Ava carried.
Cornell has about 700 students in grades K-12 who live in Coraopolis and Neville Island. All attend classes in a single building, which houses the library. The new name plaque already has been mounted outside the front door of the library.
High school principal Aaron Thomas will become superintendent when Mrs. Belas retires June 30. Mr. Thomas and Carla Antoniades, special education supervisor, put their heads together to spearhead efforts to come up with a fitting tribute. The issue was discussed by administrators, staff and school board members.
"She was an English teacher, she loves to read, and she gives every student a book for Christmas," Ms. Antoniades said, adding that the library seemed the perfect tribute. Mrs. Belas has spent her entire professional career at Cornell and "she is an icon."
Asked to comment, Mrs. Belas, 62, said, "I am honored and humbled by the kind deed of the dedication of the school library in my name. I consider my 41 years in the Cornell School District as a blessing."
Her statement included high praise for the students, staff and school board members "and the many volunteers who have worked tirelessly. Now when I miss everyone during my retirement, I will have a really good excuse to visit the school. I can tell everyone that I am going to the library."
In an earlier interview, she joked, "I have done everything but drive a school bus."
A native of Brentwood and a North Fayette resident, she did her student teaching at Cornell when she was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. Her positions have included English teacher, special education supervisor and high school principal.
Cornell Elementary principal Sarah Shaw said Mrs. Belas "has always been available to lend a helping hand. She has educated thousands of students and teachers and administrators. She has entertained us with her contagious sense of humor, positive attitude and many welcome back to school activities. She has inspired all of us to become better educators and ultimately better people."
Correction, posted May 20, 2013: The first name of Cornell School board President Jeff McBain has been corrected.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-722-0087.