The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

April 14, 2014

Portage Area names new superintendent

PORTAGE — The Portage Area school board named nearly 30-year curriculum and technology director Eric Zelanko as the district’s new superintendent. His five-year contract begins July 1.

Zelanko, 50, holds a master’s from St. Francis University, as well as a principal certification. He’s pursuing a doctorate at Penn State.

Zelanko joined the district in 1985 as a shop teacher. It wasn’t long before he was a department chairman, his self-described “first taste” of leadership in the district.

In July 2000, he became the district’s director of curriculum, technology and grant writing.

“He’s just been a very, very dedicated professional here at Portage Area,” said Superintendent Richard Bernazzoli, who is set to retire June 30. “He took on many roles and did them very well.”

The phones, business office and school database all run on different software, he said.

“He had to know a lot of different systems and platforms to keep this place running. We’re very rich, technologically speaking,” Bernazzoli said.

On paper, Zelanko appears to be a multifaceted choice to lead the district. Not only does he manage the district’s information technology infrastructure, he’s familiar with budgeting and securing state funds during a time of great need for districts across the state.

On the side, Zelanko said he is part of a school district consulting firm, Education Financial Decisions, along with a former Penn State professor and retired school district business manager. The group advises school boards and helps form budget planning models.

“Eight years ago, no one realized what was coming,” Zelanko said. “There’s this financial cliff out there.

“When the financial crisis hit, we helped school districts with ... contract negotiation, millage rates and those sorts of things.”

Zelanko said three-quarters of the exercise equipment at the high school’s new wellness center was purchased through grants he secured. He said his focus on securing those monies will remain an important part of leading the district.

Zelanko said as long as he stacks up to Bernazzoli’s example, he’ll consider himself a success. His familiarity with the district will go a long way, he said.

“I don’t know how people go to be superintendents in school districts they don’t know,” he said. “In Portage, I know what I’m getting into. I’ve got a great board, a great administrative team, and I’ve got some of the best teachers I’ve ever run into.”

Justin Dennis covers Portage Area School District for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Dennis.

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