2 of 4 North Hills school board members up for reelection not running; 8 in the race for 4 open seats

Tony LaRussa, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·12 min read

May 4—Four of the nine directors on the North Hills school board are up for election this year, but only two of the incumbents are seeking another four-year term in office.

Annette Givengo Nolish and Kathy Reid will step down after completing their terms at the end of the year.

First-term incumbents Allison Matthis and Sandy Kozera are among the eight candidates who have cross-filed on the Democrat and Republican tickets for the May 18 primary.

The four candidates who receive the highest number of votes on each ticket this spring will face off in the fall general election for the four open seats.

Here are the responses to questions posed to the two candidates:

Dale Bricker Jr.

Why did you decide to run for school board? I am actively involved in academics as a tutor and mentor at Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry in Ross Township and with my second-grade son's education. As such, I experienced up close the negative emotional, social and academic impact on children and families in our district while the majority of our current board members voted several times to shut them out.

It is important to demonstrate leadership and courage in challenging times rather than simply following direction.

What is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed? Children should be attending schools in person five days a week. There was little transparency with the public about the overall decision along the way to keep them shut out or to share information about the impacts of that decision. Hearing they had to follow statewide directives is disappointing at a minimum.

There were private and public schools operating in-person or in hybrid models in advance of our district.

Leadership requires creative and bold solutions, not passive and obscure ones.

What should voters know about you? I am a parent and community leader (mentor, tutor, coach, member of multiple township boards) for our children and families in our district. Professionally, I manage global data and IT teams in the healthcare industry, with a focus on personal development, auditing and governance.

I hold a master's degree in employee relations and value development and advancement, which is why I devote the majority of my time to mentoring, tutoring and serving the public that earned me an Allegheny County District 1 Difference Maker Award in 2020.

John C. Hoffman Jr.

Hoffman did not respond to requests for comment.

Sandy Kozera

Why did you decide to run for school board? Four years ago, I initially decided to run for school board because I believed that my perspective would be valuable in contributing to the decisions that directly affect our day-to-day lives. After a challenging term, particularly over the past year, I feel even more strongly that the school board should reflect the values of the community.

I am a graduate of North Hills, but I have also lived in other cities. I believe this background provides me with the perspective to understand the needs and concerns of longtime residents and our newer community members.

I am active in the community with my two children, so I see and hear a variety of viewpoints. Though my experiences may differ from those of my fellow board members, I know how important it is for a board to work together.

The best board members don't always agree with each other, but are respectful, professional, fair and objective. If re-elected, I will continue to strive to be the best team player that I can be.

What is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed? The sources of funding and our various mandated expenses. Our district does, and I hope will continue to do, a wonderful job of maximizing opportunities for students in the face of budgetary constraints that are outside our control, and I'm proud that our tax rate is relatively low, and that our financial situation is strong generally.

The financing of public school is nevertheless going to be an ongoing challenge in the coming years, and I hope we can continue to explore ways to keep costs low while providing the best quality education for the children in our community.

What should voters know about you? The past year in particular has shown us that the best-laid plans do not always work out the way you think they will. As a result, I think it's important to stress that I do not come to this position with any particular agenda or list of certain things I wish to accomplish.

I am concerned about promoting educational excellence, providing opportunities for all students across a wide variety of interests, ensuring equitable treatment, maintaining our current programs and employing people who are happy to come to work and who possess a desire to support the children of our district.

Alison Mathis

Why did you decide to run for school board? I ran for school board to help bridge the gap between parents and the district, and the board has seen great success in this area. I'm running for re-election because this past year has been challenging. It's going to take us time to rebound from the pandemic, both emotionally and educationally.

I'm committed to this work. I look forward to the opportunity to ensure that our schools are the best they can be for all children.

What is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed? As with all districts nationwide, we need to focus on continued recovery from the past year — not just academically but emotionally. Our focus should be on making sure our students have the highest quality education and experience. Part of this is continuing to amplify our emphasis on the social and emotional well-being of the entire North Hills School District community.

At the same time, all this must happen while continuing to be fiscally responsible.

What should voters know about you? I am the current board president and serve as chief liaison to the education committee. As a homeowner, I appreciate the balance between the needs of public education and responsible taxation. I am graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a major in sociology and I work in communications and project management. I am a former PTO president and an active volunteer with two children in the district.

My commitment to North Hills is unwavering. As a board member, I evaluate all sides to make the best decisions for our district. My colleagues and I on the school board have worked hard to rebound from what has been a tumultuous and regularly uncertain year. I'm proud of how we've persevered. But there is work to be done yet for us all. I look forward to keeping the North Hills School District one of the main reasons families move here and stay.

Dana Merlino

Why did you decide to run for school board? Education of future generations is vital to the success of the community and the country, and I want to ensure that our programs and focus are on helping students create a good foundation and skills for long-term overall life success.

What is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed? One of the biggest opportunities for growth is hands on career readiness. With my experience as a business owner and former hiring manager, I recognize a priority for enhancing programs and classes to advance job skills, life skills and emotional intelligence.

North Hills offers a great foundation for this and by partnering with businesses and community resources, together we can create more opportunities for advanced achievement and long-term success.

What should voters know about you? Growing up in Laurel Gardens, I am a graduate of North Hills class of 2001. My three children in the district are currently in middle and elementary school. Our family is involved in numerous sports programs and music education throughout the community.

Joe Muha

Why did you decide to run for school board? I have a strong interest in public service, youth and education. One of the most important things we can do as a community is to prepare our children to become strong, educated, independent adults. All school boards need dedicated and qualified individuals to serve on the board to ensure this occurs.

With my work experience as a quality manager and involvement in youth groups (athletics, scouts and church), I feel I offer a unique skill set to this position. This experience includes qualification of product, supervision, capital requests, customer service and training. This experience involves skills that are necessary to thoroughly evaluate all issues before reaching a decision based on facts.

What is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed? Many important issues face the school, including finances, safety, policy-making and reacting to new situations like covid-19. But we must never forget that the reason schools exist is to educate and prepare our children to become the best adults they can be.

We must challenge our students to excel in whatever they choose. This includes activities, AP courses, A.W. Beattie, curriculum and appropriate technology. We also need to manage our resources to ensure that all our schools provide an equal and high level of education.

What should voters know about you? I am a big believer in education for life. After high school, I have earned three college degrees and have even taken a few non-credit courses. I still get a lot of use for my library card and try to read a variety of subjects. I read the newspaper every day and scan other sources for news. When I fin articles involving education, I often post them on my Facebook page.

Elizabeth Neese

Why did you decide to run for school board? As a life-long Ross Township resident and graduate of North Hills, my North Hills pride runs deep. I am seeking a position on the school board to ensure the voices of parents, students and residents are requested and considered in the decision-making process. Over the past year, it was apparent that the wants and needs of both parents and students went unheard.

As a member of the school board, I will ensure that I am representing our North Hills community, even when it may differ from my own personal opinions.

What is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed? Getting our children back into the classroom full time, five days a week. One of the reasons my husband and I chose to live and raise our children in the North Hills was based on the education we knew our kids would receive. Our district has amazing teachers and facilities, which is why it is a top priority of mine to get our children back into the classroom full time.

What should voters know about you? North Hills will forever be my home. I've been married for 13 years to my very supportive husband Ryan, and I am an extremely proud mom to three beautiful girls.

In our house, we encourage our children to always be kind and help others whenever possible. I have a background in education, which has given me the opportunity to work with both children and adults and understand the challenges school districts face. I love my neighbors and our community, and I will put my all into this position. Most importantly, I'll strive to be your voice and always act in the best interest of our students and district.

Michael Santucci

Why did you decide to run for school board? To offer my perspective and experience as a teacher, father and husband of a small business owner to help our school district navigate the unfamiliar waters ahead. Covid-19 has taken a toll on all of us, especially our children. Online and hybrid learning has taxed our young peoples' minds, bodies and spirits.

As a father, I see it in my own two children, whether it be Daphne struggling to read a bedtime story, or Meadow missing her friends. As a high school teacher, I've seen my students struggle to attend class remotely while being distracted by having to babysit younger siblings.

Nobody in the district could have foreseen the length or scope of this global pandemic. But now, as we reopen our schools, I want to offer my unique expertise to the board as it develops plans to help our students move forward.

What is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed? The board needs to work with parents, teachers and administrators to ensure students at all levels recover from the missed in-person learning resulting from the pandemic. This issue is two-fold: addressing the stunted academic growth due to virtual learning and maintaining a balanced budget along the way.

A good place to start is to gather all stakeholders to reevaluate the district plan for the next five to 10 years, assessing students' academic growth post-pandemic and considering what funds will be available in light of the economic crisis of the past year.

With proper planning and communication among all stakeholders, I am confident that we can maintain North Hills School District's reputation as one of America's great public school districts.

What should voters know about you? I am so proud to be a part of the North Hills School District, and I'm deeply invested in this community. If elected, I will model the values of pride, tradition and excellence that have been instilled in me since birth.

My dad is a 1967 North Hills graduate and with my mom chose Ross as the location to build their home in 1977. I graduated from North Hills in 2002 and benefited directly from its first-rate academics and many clubs and activities, including football, wrestling, track and field, jazz band and HAM radio club. The skills I developed in North Hills' technology education program led me to my current career as a technology education teacher and department chair at Highlands High School.

Like my parents, my wife Sandy (North Hills '05) and I chose North Hills as the place we wanted to raise our children and purchased a home here in 2009. Our daughters Meadow and Daphne are third-generation North Hills students.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, tlarussa@triblive.com or via Twitter .