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Super, man of action

April 30, 2006|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

More than two months before he takes over as superintendent of the Chambersburg Area School District, Joseph Padasak already has made an impact.

"Action will be one of my main goals ... trying to focus people on making some decisions," Padasak, 49, said during an interview last week.

Padasak had a chance to do that soon afterward, when he asked the school board to approve a set of recommendations for changes at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, and again Thursday, when the center's Joint Operating Committee squelched the Chambersburg district's plan for its students to continue a half-day schedule for another year.

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"Now, it looks like we're going to have the possibility of a comprehensive school down at the career and technology center," Padasak said the day after the committee voted to end half-day delivery.

This year, Chambersburg career technology students went to a half-day schedule, attending the center half of the day and taking academic classes at the high school the other half.

Students at the other five school districts in Franklin County attend the center all day for one semester and their home schools the other half of the year.

Chambersburg adopted the half-day schedule in an effort to bring up the reading and math scores of its career technology students, most of whom score below the proficient level.

Padasak expressed no regret at the committee ending half-day delivery for Chambersburg.

"It's right for the kids. Let's move on," Padasak said. "It helped us make decisions. It refined the thinking for us."

Padasak, who succeeds retiring Superintendent Edwin Sponseller on July 1, told the school board Wednesday that he wanted direction from it to make major changes at the center.

"What wasn't said ... is Joe convened a series of meetings with local businesses, the school districts" and center administration, said school board member David Sciamanna, who is on the Joint Operating Committee.

"It was unanimous there was a clamor for change, a clamor for upgrading the school," Sciamanna said.

While he voted against ending half-day delivery, he said, "We're more concerned about the big picture and getting it right in the long term."

A single high school for Chambersburg is also not a long-term solution for the district, Padasak said.

Last week, he said the district should consider renovating Chambersburg Area Senior High School and retain it as a high school. He said Faust Junior High School should be converted to a second high school, something he said could be more easily accomplished than converting Faust into a middle school.

That would leave the 78 acres that the district purchased for secondary school expansion as the site for a middle school, Padasak said.

"We're not in unison on it," Padasak said when asked if the board supports a two-high school plan. "If we had a poll, I think a majority of the board would be in agreement that there is definitely a need for two high schools."

What students attended which school would not be determined by where they live, but by what careers they wish to pursue after high school, said Padasak, who envisions one school for high technology and the other for fine arts.

"I'm hoping the community is mature enough to accept a two high school concept," Padasak said.

Two schools would mean the duplication of some services and associated costs, but it also would mean more opportunity for individual students to participate in sports, drama, band and other scholastic and extracurricular activities, Padasak said.

"It's loud and clear to me we should have a day care in the high school" for students with children as well as staff, said Padasak, addressing what he admitted could be a touchy subject. Such a facility could prevent some students from dropping out because they cannot afford day care, he said.

As for a middle school, he advanced the idea that it could encompass grades five through eight, freeing up room in elementary schools for full-day kindergarten and preschool programs.

For the past four years, Padasak has been superintendent of the Windber (Pa.) Area School District, which he described as "poor, but frugal," with about 1,500 students and a $15 million budget, but with $17 million "in the bank."

"They had the money in the bank. All I had to do was manage it," said Padasak, who simultaneously served as the district's business manager.

While Padasak was there, the district expanded its middle school to accommodate a growing student population and upgraded all of its buildings, he said.

"We shouldn't have to do anything substantial there for 15 years," Padasak said. "They shouldn't have to raise taxes for 15 years."

With a large surplus, the school district did not have to raise taxes during his tenure, and cut taxes three times before he became superintendent.

Padasak also has experience as the chief school administrator for a career and technology center.

"I took a proactive stance and made some changes that are still ongoing," he said.

Padasak is bringing that proactive stance to a larger stage in Chambersburg. With a preliminary 2006-07 budget of $89.2 million and about 8,500 students, it is one of the largest of Pennsylvania's 501 districts.

"I came here to make decisions, and I'm going to make some," he said.

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