The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 12, 2014

New Conemaugh Township superintendent begins duties Monday

David Hurst

JOHNSTOWN — When Thomas “T.J.” Kakabar heard Conemaugh Township’s school board was hunting for a new superintendent, it caught his attention.

“It was something I was getting ready to apply for,” he said.

Then his phone rang.

As it turned out, Conemaugh Township’s search committee was searching for him.

“It’s a small world,” said Kakabar, 49, who will start his first day as the district’s top administrator today. “You sit down for the interview process ... and you quickly realize it’s the perfect fit.”

The move will bring the Salix native closer to home, after spending the past seven years as Penns Manor Area’s superintendent.

A 1982 Bishop McCort graduate, Kakabar has spent most of his life in the area. He spent eight years at Portage Area schools before taking his first superintendent’s position at Penns Manor in late 2006.

“I’m really looking forward to becoming a part of the Conemaugh Township community,” said Kakabar, whose first-year, $105,000 contract will be pro-rated to reflect his shortened school year with the district. “I’m anxious to start a new chapter here.”

Kakabar replaces Conemaugh Township’s previous superintendent, Gary Buchsen, who accepted a job in the fall to serve as Port Alleghany schools’ top administrator.

Conemaugh Township had 15 applicants to replace Buchsen, but it was Kakabar’s experience and vision for the district that put him ahead of the field, board member Susan Saylor-Stahl said.

“He’s been superintendent for eight years. He’s demonstrated leadership during tough economic times and despite ever-changing requirements being placed on school districts,” Stahl said, noting Kakabar serves on the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools.

“Mr. Kakabar grew up close to here ... he knows the culture of this area, which is so important,” she added.

Kakabar, a 1987 IUP graduate who received his master’s degree in supervision and administration from Frostburg State, started his career as a social studies teacher at Forest Hills.

From there he moved to Portage, serving as athletic director, assistant principal and, later, high school principal. He earned his superintendent’s certification from Shippensburg University in 2005.

Kakabar described himself as a “team-oriented” administrator.

“As superintendent, I have to see the big picture,” he added. “But I was a teacher and Iā€ˆserved as a principal ... I understand where they are coming from and what they go through on a day-to-day basis.”

Stahl said she sees Kakabar as “an excellent fit” for the district.

“We’re excited to have him here,” she added.

David Hurst is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at