Bishop McCort’s nationwide search for a new chief administrator is over.
And as it turns out, the private school didn’t have to look far to find him.
Richland schools Superintendent Thomas Fleming Jr., a district administrator for the past 16 years, will serve as both principal and in the newly-created position of chief administrative officer, McCort’s trustees announced Tuesday.
“Mr. Fleming brings a depth of experience and a reputation that is unmatched in the greater Johnstown area,” McCort board of trustees Chairman Mark Pasquerilla said.
The board is confident, he added, that Fleming will “provide the high standard of leadership” that has established the school as a leading southwestern Pa Catholic educator.
Fleming described the move Tuesday as “a unique opportunity” he couldn’t pass up.
“I’ve had the opportunity to serve as superintendent at the premiere public school district in the region. And now I get the chance to lead in the same capacity at the premiere Catholic school in our region,” said Fleming, who is currently expected to assume the roles June 30.
Fleming, 52, will serve as McCort’s first principal in nearly a year.
He’ll replace Ken Salem, who was placed on leave - and then left the school last summer - at a time claims surfaced by a growing number of former students alleging molestation by longtime McCort coach and eductor Brother Stephen Baker.
In the weeks that followed, McCort trustees hired a Nebraska-based firm with decades of experience helping schools find new administrators. The search was billed as a national one - although public forums were also scheduled with parents and alumni for local input.
Fleming said McCort’s search committee initially approached him about the position.
He said he didn’t hesitate to consider the possibility.
“Obviously there are some challenges but I think the Bishop McCort family is resilient and I’m hopeful and optimistic that better days lie ahead,” he added. “I see this as a tremendous opportunity. I’m looking forward to applying my experience and expertise - and my awareness of this school’s tradition - to good use.”
McCort Spokesman Matt Beynon said the trustees’ search initially lead to four finalists.
And then to Fleming, he added.
The 30-year-educator will serve in a dual-role, Pasquerilla said.
As principal, Fleming said it provides “an exciting opportunity” to be more involved with students and day-to-day operations. As chief administrative officer, he’ll also be in charge of in fundraising and school development, he added.
Fleming is currently part-way through his current Richland contract, which set a salary of approximately $113,542 for 2013-2014.
Fleming said he gave his current district’s board a six-month notice that he might opt out of the remaining three years of his deal. He notified board members Monday night he’d made a decision but offered to remain with Richland schools until June 30 - the end of this school year - to give district officials time to get their search for his replacement underway.
That - and Fleming’s leadership as superintendent - “puts us in a really good place as we begin to search for his replacement,” said board member Michael Bodolosky, a music teacher at the district before joining the board.
“Because of his vision and his progressive nature, we’re in good shape here,” he added. “We’re not under the gun to rush and find a replacement right away. We can take our time and find the right person here.”
Richland’s loss will be McCort’s gain, Richland school board Chairman Anthony Rizzo said, crediting Fleming for leaving “a legacy” that has the school well-positioned for the future.
“He’s left a legacy here,” Rizzo said, adding that Bishop McCort “made a smart move selecting him.”
“He’s a great fit for McCort. They’re getting a religious, family-oriented man - the kind of guy you’d want your kids to grow up like,” he added. “We’re lucky that we had him first.”
David Hurst covers Richland Township for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst.