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JAMES PHILLIP HARRIS JR.
(Photo courtesy Reading Eagle/Lauren A. Little)

The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that the Woodland Hills School Board will announce its choice for superintendent of schools at its board meeting, Aug. 15.

“We have actually made a decision.  We will be announcing at the Aug. 15 voting meeting,” board vice president Mike Belmonte told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an email, Aug. 2.

The meeting will be held at the Woodland Hills School District Administration Building, 531 Jones Ave. in North Braddock.

The finalists are James Phillip Harris Jr., current superintendent for the Daniel Boone Area School District in Berks County, Pennsylvania, and Kelley Castlin-Gacutan, EdD, former superintendent of Birmingham City Schools.

The public was introduced to the two finalists during an open forum at the Woodland Hills Administration Building, July 23. Both candidates shared with residents their vision for the Woodland Hills School District, along with their background and qualifications.

KELLEY CASTLIN-GACUTAN, EdD

The position became open after Alan Johnson’s resignation as Woodland Hills School Superintendent was effective at the end of the past school year. Johnson had been with the district in a number of capacities since 2011.

Bart Rocco, former Elizabeth Forward School District, currently serves as interim superintendent.

Both Jamie Glasser, board president, and Belmonte declined to comment on the primary criteria or qualifications the board was looking for in the district’s next superintendent.

In mid-July, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released the findings of an audit performed on the district, which revealed issues with safety policies and no proper method for the district to investigate claims of bullying.

“I was stunned to learn that the Woodland Hills School District does not provide annual bullying prevention training,” DePasquale said during a press conference.  “Making our schools safer is about being proactive and educating students about how to prevent bullying before an incident even occurs. Working with students and staff to prevent bullying is a step that no school can afford to skip, especially given the history of violence at Woodland Hills.”

DePasquale said the district’s policy on gangs hasn’t been updated since 1994, and “some of the emergency agreements with first responders” are “out of date.”

The district responded to the report last week by announcing it was making upgrades to its security policies, including implementing a multi-hazard school response plan by the time classes begin Aug. 27, and pushing back the start times for district schools.

And this summer alone, two more Woodland Hills students lost their lives to violence. On June 19, 17-year-old Antwon Rose II was shot and killed by East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld, and on July 16, 15-year-old Tyrelle Bowyer was shot and killed in Wilkinsburg.

Harris, a former Military Policeman for six years, worked as an investigator for the New Jersey Treasury Department and in the marketing department at Coca-Cola before switching careers to education. Harris became the Chief Operating Officer for Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation and Dayton Public Schools and was Business Operations Manager for Breakthrough Charter Network in Cleveland. After a brief stint with the Philadelphia School District, he has served as superintendent in the Daniel Boone Area School District for the last three years.

According to a biography of Harris provided to the Courier by Glasser, Harris’ philosophy of leadership is “largely a reflection of my philosophy of living. I believe that each day we are both educators and learners. Moreover, if we are active, our lives truly become enriched by these experiences. I encourage my students and employees to develop a lifelong commitment of personal growth through their own awareness, and to see the beauty in life that surrounds them and that is within—to inspire them.”

Castlin-Gacutan, a Birmingham, Ala. native, served as superintendent of Birmingham City Schools for one year (2015-16), and, according to her biography provided to the Courier by Glasser, reduced the number of “failing” schools, identified by the Alabama Department of Education, from 18 to 13. She was responsible for more than 24,000 students, 2,800 employees and a $246 million operating budget.

Castlin-Gacutan was formerly the interim superintendent in Bibb County Schools (Macon, Georgia). She’s currently the founder and president of Kennrod Inc., an organization that provides high-quality tutoring and college and career readiness services to pre-Kindergarten to twelfth grade students in underserved communities.

Over her 25 years in education, Castlin-Gacutan has served as a high school English teacher in Japan, assistant principal, principal, and university professor/director.

 

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