Portage hires superintendent

PORTAGE – Longtime administrator Eric Zelanko accepted Portage Area School District’s offer to become superintendent Wednesday, with the board approving a five-year contract beginning July 1.

“It’s an honor,” he said afterward. “I started my career here, and I’m ending my career here.”

Zelanko, who serves as the district’s technology director, curriculum director and grant writer, will be replacing Superintendent Richard Bernazzoli, who served for eight years beginning in July 2006.

Zelanko came to Portage Area in January 1985 as a shop teacher, before moving on to an administrative position in the early 2000s. He said he obtained his superintendent credentials roughly a decade ago, and even applied for the job before Bernazzoli was ultimately chosen.

“I was young then,” he said, laughing.

The board approved Zelanko’s contract 8-0. Board member J.T. Bandzuh was absent.

Board Vice President Kathy Hough said Zelanko was chosen without the district conducting a formal search because of his time with Portage Area.

“We’re comfortable with him. I feel he’s intelligent, and he knows our district well,” Hough said. “We automatically thought of him because he’s been here so long, and it just seemed like a perfect fit.”

Steve Robinson, public relations director for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said the association doesn’t keep data on school searches, but it’s not uncommon for districts to forego them and hire from within.

“It’s going to be dependent on what the community feels is best,” he said, and often districts weigh their options on a case-by-case basis.

“Oftentimes, districts have a certain comfort level with their internal staff and know somebody has been groomed to step in … and has experience and knowledge of the district,” he added.

Two districts – Tyrone Area and Hollidaysburg Area -whose boards have voted in new superintendents within the last year, also chose to hire one of their own.

Zelanko admitted that the position is a little “scary.”

“I’ve had other opportunities, but I’m at the best place there is,” Zelanko said. “This is the No. 1 high school in the [Intermediate Unit]; the No. 3 elementary school. To go somewhere else would have been a step down.”

The board also voted to hire Ryan Clouse as technology coordinator at an annual salary of $50,000. Zelanko will retain some of his curriculum and grant-writing duties, which are currently shared positions with the district’s two principals.

Zelanko’s contract information wasn’t available Wednesday.