TYRONE - It's the end of a 43-year era.
Although longtime Superintendent William Miller's retirement doesn't go into effect until the end of next month, the Tyrone Area School Board voted 8-1 Tuesday evening to name his successor: business administrator Cathy Harlow.
The no vote came from James Raabe, who said only that he felt there were other candidates who better fit the qualities community members were looking for in a superintendent, as outlined in feedback from a survey posted on the district's website.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Cathy Harlow (right) gets a congratulatory hug from Tyrone Area School District school board member Rev. Norman Huff of Tyrone after the conclusion of Tuesday evening’s meeting in which Harlow was approved as the district’s new superintendent.
Harlow, who has been with the district 19 years, beat out six other candidates for a four-year contract which will start July 1 with a $115,000 salary for the 2013-14 school year.
She is a Huntingdon native and moved to Tyrone in 2009. She is married to Tom Muir and has two children, Casie and Caleb Peachey.
Preceding the vote, four people spoke during the meeting's public comments period to commend Harlow for her work for the district and the board for its decision to hire her.
One speaker, English teacher Steve Everhart, said Harlow "balances her relationships as smoothly as she does her spreadsheets." Geography and economics teacher Cummins McNitt said she's worked with her to improve data collection and his own teaching style.
What makes Harlow's hire unique is her business background, said Tom Templeton, Pennsylvania School Boards Association assistant executive director.
Most candidates come from "the ranks of your principals and assistant superintendents and those on the education side," he said, but that trend may be changing.
A lot of the reason for the shift is new state legislation, passed last June, that allows for candidates to come from a finance background instead of teaching, Templeton said, and many districts are looking for financial and human-resource management, rather than educational leadership.
But Miller said Harlow's dedication is to both the school's finances and the students' futures. Years before the state public school code was amended, Harlow had been working on completing her doctorate and getting her eligibility letter from the state, he said.
"She has both sides of the coin," Miller said. "We're fortunate that she's here."
Her integrity and ethics combined with her financial knowledge and classroom work will make her an asset on many levels, he said.
He also joked that she likely was relieved that his sons did not apply for the job to compete with her, since Harlow's hire marks the end of a near 75-year period with a Miller at the district's helm. Miller's father Norman was district superintendent from 1939 to 1970.
But his presence may continue to be felt, since board members expressed an interest in January in making him instrumental in selecting his successor, and Miller had been grooming her for advancement for years.
Templeton said that succession-grooming also isn't uncommon, but Miller's involvement in the selection process has irked some, particularly members of the informal group The Concerned Citizens of the Tyrone Area School District.
Although they chose not to speak during the public comments period, many remarked after that the meeting felt choreographed.
Parent Cherokee Sprague said she could have stayed at home to watch a Hallmark movie if she wanted to see something scripted, while another member, former school board candidate Drew M. Baker, said he was upset that the school paid for a superintendent-search contract with the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and "strung along" six others only to select someone from within the district.
During the meeting Harlow sat stoically as board members voted, only smiling afterward when the final decision was announced. She admitted to feeling nervous, saying the vote was the culmination of years of work, and flushed as she rose to address the board, telling them she was humbled to be chosen and honored by the opportunity.
Although she's worked with Miller for several years, she said they have agreed to disagree on several issues and she has her own vision for the school's future.
"I'm my own person," she said. "I have and will continue to make my own decisions."
The one place where they will always agree is that Miller placed high expectations on the school, and she wants to show everyone, including Raabe, that "I can do this job and I can do it effectively," she said.