Richard T. Sniscak got a standing ovation from family, friends and on-lookers Tuesday night as the Parkland school board unanimously appointed him as district superintendent.
Sniscak, who has been assistant superintendent for two years, was given a five-year contract, effective July 1. He will replace Dr. Louise E. Donohue, who announced in December that she will be retiring at the end of the school year.
"It's a big responsibility," said the 48-year-old Sniscak, following the vote. "I look forward to the challenge, and I'm thankful for the opportunity."
Sniscak, of North Whitehall, has served at Donohue's side since 2009 as assistant superintendent. Prior to that, he led Parkland High School as principal for eight years. He also had been athletic director and football coach, leading Parkland to two district titles.
A native of Allentown, Sniscak earned his bachelor's degree from The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, where he majored in math and education. There, he also played football on a full scholarship.
He received his master's degree in educational leadership and a superintendent's letter of eligibility certificate from Lehigh University in 2004. He is in the final stages of a doctoral program in educational leadership, according to a release.
Sniscak sat in the back row of the administration building's meeting room as board members cast their verbal votes. Two board members, Robert Bold and Mark Hanichak, were not able to attend the meeting in person and voted via a speaker phone.
In a light-hearted moment, Hanichak indicated that he had grown up within two blocks of Sniscak, and that he now lives within two blocks of Donohue. So if anyone wants to be superintendent, he joked, consider moving close to him.
Sniscak apparently had his boss's blessing for the top job.
"I believe strongly that the board has made the right choice," Donohue said, adding that Sniscak's appointment is in the district's best interest. She described him as having a collaborative leadership style.
Board President Jayne Bartlett said the board did not think it was necessary to do an outside search for superintendent and waste taxpayers' money, given the district is on course and has Sniscak as part of the administration.
"Let's just keep going," she said, then told Sniscak, "you're the right captain. We feel we're going the right way."
Sniscak first taught math for 10 years in the Allentown School District, then served as an assistant to the high school principal. As a coach, he said, he won one district title in football at Allen High School, and two district titles in baseball at Dieruff High School.
In 1995, he was appointed Parkland's athletic director and assistant to the principal. He said he also coached football, winning the two district titles. In 2001, he became principal of Parkland High School, the district's only high school and, with more than 3,000 students, the size of some school districts elsewhere. In March 2009, he was appointed assistant superintendent.
Sniscak said his priorities as superintendent will be to improve upon the district's quality educational programs through difficult financial times. Officials are in the midst of a difficult budget process as tax revenues decline, mainly because of assessment appeals, and state subsidies remain uncertain.
"We're going to continue to evolve educationally," he said.
He said district officials will work on filling the assistant superintendent's position in the next few months.
On Tuesday night, Sniscak's wife, Michele, was on hand for the vote. So too were his parents, Fran and Dick Sniscak. (His father taught in the Allentown School District for 36 years.)
The audience erupted in applause at the appointment, before standing in ovation.
Earlier in the day, in a note e-mailed to the district staff about 4 p.m., board president Bartlett said Sniscak "will have very large shoes to fill." But she said the board knows Sniscak is the right person to do that.
"We are sure that Rich will continue to guide Parkland in our mission of 'Educating for Success, Inspiring Excellence,' ’’ she wrote.
Bartlett said Sniscak's appointment will allow for a smooth transition.