AASD picks next leader

Tom Otto is on his way to becoming the Altoona Area School District superintendent beginning this summer, and he will carry that title at least through June 2017.

A four-year contract for Otto, who has served as Clearfield Area School District superintendent since 2011, is expected to be approved at the board’s Feb. 19 meeting, board President Ryan Beers said.

The contract to be approved has Otto starting with a salary of $141,000, Beers said.

The contract will include an automatic annual salary increase of 2.5 percent and an annual bonus of up to 1.5 percent depending on a board evaluation of Otto’s performance, he said.

“We looked at several other contracts of superintendents, and his [Otto’s ] current contract to negotiate,” Beers said. “I am very excited to have Dr. Otto leading the district next year. His energy, demeanor and commitment to positive communication are exactly what the Altoona Area School District needs moving forward.”

Otto, 56, has a doctorate of education from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is a former teacher and principal of Altoona Area’s former Keith Junior High School.

“I think Altoona Area is one of the premier school districts in Pennsylvania,” Otto said. “The opportunity to head that organization is a one in a lifetime opportunity.”

Otto spent 15 years as a school administrator, including three years as academic principal, then director of curriculum at Bellwood-Antis High School, his alma-matter, before becoming superintendent of Clearfield Area. In total, he has 35 years of experience in the educational field.

The board’s Feb. 19 vote will end a six-month-long search process that began shortly after Superintendent Dennis Murray announced his retirement in August.

Murray, 72, has served as Altoona Area Superintendent for 29 years and is to retire June 30.

In September, the board contracted the Pennsylvania School Boards Association to advertise the position and arrange interviews with candidates. The board narrowed its total of 15 candidates to eight by examining their search letters that included salary expectations and reasons for applying for the Altoona Area job. The board has not released the candidates names.

In late January, the board announced it had interviewed the eight candidates and narrowed the field to three.

On Wednesday, the board invited faculty and staff representatives to interview the final two candidates.

The nine-member board subsequently selected Otto, and his contract was negotiated Saturday morning among Beers, Vice President Maryann Joyce Bistline, Sharon Bream and district solicitor Dave Andrews.

“I’m looking forward to some good things,” Bream said. “He [Otto] wants to work together as a team with the board and staff, and be more visible to staff, students and parents.”

A resident of Altoona, Otto commutes to work at Clearfield Area School District. He could begin work at Altoona as early as June 15, he said.

He believes Altoona is a premier school district for many reasons:

“When you look at student achievement, the district has two Blue Ribbon schools. It has been recognized for high school achievement. It has decent attendance and graduation rates. It has strong programs in academics, athletics and the arts. It has great facilities and it takes pride in the organization of employees.”

He said he has a vision for the district and said he needs time “to meet with the school board to articulate my vision of where we need to go with the district.”

“My vision would be that we establish such a collaborative culture that stresses communication and student achievement that parents will want to buy houses in our district and businesses will want to locate in Altoona to take advantage of the education and opportunity offered to potential employees. That is my dream,” he said.

“That means we need to certainly improve,” he said.

And he said that improvement will result from establishing communication among the board and employees across the district – “a network to share best practices with each other.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.