Superintendent leaves South Side Area for 'homecoming' in Highlands
For Michael Bjalobok, filling his new role as superintendent of the Highlands School District will be like coming home again.
Mr. Bjalobok, 51, of Marshall, will begin his tenure as the chief administrator of the district on March 1, leaving the superintendent's post at South Side Area School District in Beaver County.
He had served as assistant superintendent at Highlands from 2007 to 2009, leaving to accept the promotion at South Side.
"I loved Highlands. Coming back to Highlands will feel like coming home," he said.
School board president Carrie Fox said the district is just as eager to have him, calling him "the perfect fit." She said he is "full of ideas" and a "people person."
"Dr. Bjalobok will take our district onto a pathway that will lead us into the future," she said.
The board voted to hire Mr. Bjalobok for the $130,000-a-year job on Feb. 11. He replaces Joseph Latess, who retired in July. Assistant superintendent Patrick Graczyk had been serving as acting superintendent. He did not seek the superintendent's post.
Mr. Bjalobok praised South Side Area, based in Hookstown, saying he enjoyed his four-year tenure at the district of 1,175 students. He said he anticipates with excitement the challenge of leading the Highlands district, which has 2,800 students from Harrison, Tarentum, Brackenridge and Fawn.
He said he intends to plumb his past experiences, especially at Seneca Valley, where he was principal of Haine Elementary School from 1995 to 2007.
Pledging to work on curriculum, instruction and assessment as a three-pronged tool to "build student achievement," he said he favors the use of the Northwest Evaluation Association assessment program as a way of assessing student performance at three points throughout the school year: the beginning, as a benchmark; the middle, to assess progress; and the end, to evaluate gains. It is a testing mechanism that is used at Seneca Valley and that he brought to South Side Area as well.
He said this testing program allows teachers to "utilize live data so you can focus in on where you are and then meet the needs of each student." He said he intends to evaluate the "common core of the curriculum" to determine if elements are missing.
At the top of his wish list is technology. At South Side Area, he implemented one-to-one technology, giving each student in middle and high school daily access to a laptop and giving access to iPads to each elementary student daily. He uses lease agreements with Apple and Lenova.
"I believe we're in an age where technology is a priority,'' he said.
Mr. Bjalobok was given a five-year contract. He said he hopes to retire from Highlands. "I love the community and the people. I envision spending the rest of my career at Highlands," he said.
He thanked the South Side Area school board for its cooperation. "It's been a wonderful experience," he said. He earned $122,000 in the post there.
Mr. Bjalobok received a teaching certificate and bachelor's degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a master's degree from Duquesne University and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh.
He began his career as an elementary teacher before moving on to principal positions for 15 years, serving in several local school districts, including Mars Area, Moon Area and Hampton. He received his superintendent's letter of eligibility in 1997.
He and his wife, Susie, a principal at Peebles Elementary School in the North Allegheny School District, have two children.
First Published February 21, 2013 5:15 am