Superintendent Zetty Zeros in on Staff, Not Stuff
Nina Zetty, Ph.D., discusses the new school year, budget challenges, handling personal criticism and future goals for the Peters Township School District.
The new school year begins Aug. 29 for Peters Township students, and it has been a busy summer for the entire district and the central administration offices.
The summer included the adoption of a new budget by the school board, which was balanced without more than $900,000 in state funds, causing the need to cut spending across the board. For the first time in history, the board will begin work on the budget for 2012-2013 this fall, in order to prepare for whatever action may be necessary to maintain quality educational programs, while again expecting additional funding cuts in the coming year, the staff said.
Superintendent Nina Zetty, Ph.D. and her staff have been preparing for the new school year.
In the high school, Lori Pavlik will begin her first full year as principal, and in the central office, Patricia Kardambikis, Ph.D., will take over the role as assistant superintendent and director of curriculum, replacing Anthony Merante, Ph.D., who retired.
(A line-up of new district staff and teachers were honored at the chamber lunch Friday as well. Read who, here.)
As she prepares for the start of the new academic year, Zetty took time to discuss what amounted to be a challenging past year, while looking ahead.
EB: As a new school year begins, what can students look forward to when they return to classes?
NZ: I would say they can look forward to open arms and loving hearts because the budget has made it such that we’re not focusing so much on stuff, so they’re coming back to our greatest resource—our staff. We’ll be spending our time and our efforts, and our money, on special development of the staff this year. We’re not looking at any major programs or technology changes. We’re looking at continuing with all of the things we’ve been doing.
EB: This may have been one of the most challenging years in recent memory, in light of the cuts in funding for education, not to mention the capital needs that have come up. How do you keep PTSD moving forward and among the top school districts in the state after having to make cuts in programs you would like to see continued, or programs that have been put on hold?
NZ: We’ve remained optimistic and we’ve become creative. We started an educational foundation so that we can have another revenue source to go to for the extra kinds of things that we can’t provide right now. We’ve passed the Advertising Policy so we can get some additional revenues through advertising, and we’re looking at other ways to increase revenues. Of course, we’re looking at ways of cutting costs like everyone else. That’s one of our greatest challenges, because Peters has been renowned for a shoestring budget in respect to expenses. We don’t buy a whole lot of frills. We have a person in charge of grant writing, and she’s been writing—one of our teachers has already been awarded $2,000 to advance technology. We continue to look creatively for additional revenue sources and ways to pay expenses. We’re staying optimistic in our goals of moving forward.
(Zetty also noted that community response to the foundation has been going well, and that the district will launch an in-house appeal to staff to support the foundation through payroll deductions.)
EB: Next year could be even more challenging in terms of funding. How can you maintain what is here without having to make staffing and cuts in programs?
We promised staff this year that we would cut stuff—not staff. I’m not sure if I can make that same promise for the upcoming school year. However, (not cutting staff) will still be our goal. So through the increased revenue generation and the continued expense reduction, our hopes are that we’ll still be able to maintain our staff so that we can provide the programs we always have. The extra stuff, like the athletic fees, we’re asking the users to help out too. For instance, in the athletic program, instead of cutting coaches, we’re asking for some help. Our biggest challenge is to help the community to understand that our goal is not to cut their services, but we need help in return until we get to a point that through taxes or through referendum we can cover these costs.
EB: Many times the superintendent is the "lightning rod" for complaints, or at least people tend to blame you even though there are things out of your control. How do you deal with that on a personal level?
NZ: The joke that I use around here is ‘I’m really a size zero, the rest of this is just thick skin.’ I think you have to develop that to realize that criticisms that you receive a lot of times are coming from emotion. It’s because people have lost something they wanted or didn’t get something that they want. We make decisions collaboratively here. We sit down and look at the best way to handle it, while considering our taxpayers and the students we’re serving. When we finally make those decisions, many times people are not happy. I’m able to go home at night, put my head on the pillow and go to sleep, knowing that I’ve done the best job I can for the kids here, and I have to deal with that internally, despite the external complaints and criticisms I receive.
EB: Are there things you would like to see done at all levels in the school district to bring teachers and administrators closer together?
NZ: I think that when you look at history, those things that bring people together around a common cause tend to be crisis. My prayer is that I hope we never have to come together around a crisis. I think though that the financial situations, as we have seen them, can be viewed as a crisis. I saw this staff come together around that issue. I think it brought us closer together because staff sees that we do value them. Because of their contributions to the district, we are willing to give up whatever we need to in order to keep them. It’s coming together around common cause. We’ve always been together around student learning and student achievement, and moving the district forward, but this added crisis, if you will, has brought us closer together and will continue to do so. We want to continue to share the message that we value our staff, because they are our greatest resource.
EB: The board has renewed your contract. What are the things you would still like to accomplish in the coming years?
NZ: Long-term visions are for us to be the model of the 21st century school district in the state. We could shoot for the stars and nation, and globally is possible. Financially, it’s going to be a great challenge. But for the next three years, my goal is to continue moving us forward. The previous superintendents, leadership in the district and previous school boards have brought us to this point. This is a great point to be and I don’t want us to slip, so I would like us to continue forward in all the areas we focus on. I would like our students to continue to be the top scorers on SATs and PSSAs; I would love our students to continue to perform as well as they have in athletics; and I want them to continue to excel in their artistic endeavors and in theater, music and the arts.
This district embraces that, and in order to truly educate the whole child we have to continue those as well as leadership and character, because these areas support everything else that we do.