Indiana school board members and administrators formally said goodbye to the district’s popular band-leader-turned-assistant-superintendent Monday, as Robert Rizzo exited the school system he has called home for 17 years.
Rizzo’s resignation for his move to the Spring-Ford Area School District in Montgomery County is part of a six-person shift of administrative positions in Indiana, including the addition of two educators with deep roots in the Johnstown area. That brings to four the number of IASD leaders connected to Cambria County.
Rizzo called his acceptance of an assistant superintendent position in suburban Philadelphia “a calling” much as it was in 2002, when he left Penn Hills to become a music teacher and marching band director for Indiana Area Junior High School.
A small audience of district employees and residents stood to show their appreciation for Rizzo’s service when he finished a prepared statement.
Rizzo talked about the professional and personal relationship that he developed with Michael Vuckovich beginning a year ago, when Vuckovich was hired as superintendent and Rizzo was promoted to assistant superintendent in tandem.
He praised the school board and administration for running Indiana as a progressive district.
“I commend the board for building a vision for IASD in bringing on Mike Vuckovich, the perfect man to help realize that vision,” Rizzo said. “Over the last year, I have learned a tremendous about from Mike and from serving on his team.
His passion for students, his positive outlook, his high standards and drive was and is inspiring.
“I fully support the changes that are occurring in our district, and have been a major contributor to developing a path and a plan for growth, inspired by Mike and our administrative team, as a team. We have made some difficult decisions to help position Indiana Area School District for growth and success.”
Rizzo thanked the school directors for remaining silent about his intentions two weeks ago when the board, with no explanation, created the “director of education” position.
“While I don’t necessarily feel that I owe anybody an explanation for the move, it is important to know that each career shift was something that my wife and I prayed about and I believe was an answer to a calling,” Rizzo said. “My decision to uproot my family, move east away from friends, family and the district I love is simply another response in kind.
“While I am leaving Indiana, know that I am taking a lot of Indiana with me. … Indiana will always hold a place in my heart and, I know, will continue to grow and be recognized as an exceptional school district.”
At the same time the school board accepted Rizzo’s resignation, it abolished the assistant superintendent position.
The directors then hired Robert Heinrich as the director of education, a job title that the board created June 24 — the same night that the Spring-Ford board welcomed Rizzo to Royerstown as that district’s new No. 2 administrator.
Heinrich worked more than 10 years as the academic academies principal at Greater Johnstown High School, and left the district last summer at the same time that Johnstown’s substitute superintendent, Michael Vuckovich, was named to succeed Dale Kirsch as Indiana’s superintendent.
Heinrich spent the past year as principal of Hollidaysburg Area Junior High School in Blair County.
Heinrich said his job will include most of Rizzo’s duties including professional development, education curriculum leadership, human resources and management of the IDEAL online course program. He will join Indiana after providing 60 days’ notice to Hollidaysburg.
The school board set his pay at $100,000 for his first year.
Coupled with Heinrich’s addition to the administration staff, the school board hired Douglas Johnson as assistant principal of Indiana Area Senior High School at an annual salary of $85,000, effective immediately.
Johnson worked nine years on the staff at Richland School District in suburban Johnstown, where he joined the football coaching staff in 2010. Johnson became an alternative education instructor in 2011 through the private, nonprofit Learning Lamp program, which provides tutors and substitute teachers to 70 school districts in the region, then was hired as a geometry teacher at Richland High School in 2013.
The fourth IASD administrator with Johnstown credentials is Justin Zahorchak, who was named director of special education and pupil services in May.
Vuckovich reassigned three other administrators during the spring. The changes within the district staff did not require school board approval; the job switches are now taking effect:
• Erin Eisenman, the assistant principal at the senior high since December 2012, is the new principal of Dwight Eisenhower Elementary School.
• Marilyn Walther, the principal of Eisenhower School since 2012, has returned to her former post as assistant principal at the junior high school.
• Krista Sevajian, the junior high assistant principal for the past four school years, will take over as principal of Horace Mann Elementary School.
• Lawra Stuart, the Horace Mann school principal for five years, in May submitted her resignation to take effect Aug. 2.
The remaining building administrators — senior high principal Wade McElheny, junior high principal Michael Minnick, East Pike School principal Daniel Springer and Ben Franklin Elementary principal Kelly Urbani — will stay in place for 2019-20.
School board President Walter Schroth said the recasting of the administrative positions reflects Vuckovich’s knack for placing people in the right jobs and letting them blossom so they can reach their personal potential.
“One of the things I really like about Mike is that he’s got a really good eye for people and where they need to be, to get the best performance out of them in support of the students,” Schroth said.
“If you’re the kind of person that develops people who then move on to bigger and better things, that’s more of a compliment to the superintendent for providing those people that experience, background and personal growth that gets them to that level.”
Rizzo’s new job, Schroth said, is an example of how Vuckovich has enabled his staff to flourish.
“We’re very thrilled with the job Mike is doing; we’re pleased with where he’s taking the district,” he added.