First Posted: 9/26/2013
She made history.
Janet Serino, a longtime Wyoming Area administrator, was named the district’s first female superintendent on Tuesday. She took the oath of office on Wednesday, but won’t take the reins of the district until April when current district chief Ray Bernardi retires.
“Wyoming Area is my alma mater so to come back all these years later and be able to be the superintendent, I have to say I’m very excited,” she said. “It’s truly an honor.”
The Wyoming Area School Board voted 6-1 to hire Serino, the current assistant superintendent, to lead the district for the next five years at a starting salary of $113,065. The dissenting vote came from Mary Louise Degnan, who said she would have preferred to open up the position to get the best candidate.
At the meeting, board member Estelle Campenni said the board just made a historic vote.
“This is the first time a woman is superintendent at Wyoming Area,” Campenni said. Serino was then given a standing ovation by the crowd, including a large group of teachers.
Serino said she was glad to have the support of the board and the teachers.
“That the teachers were willing to stand up last night and give me a standing ovation when I was appointed the next superintendent in the middle of the strike, that says a lot,” Serino said. “I’ve always had a good relationship with our teachers ever since I was a building principal.”
Over the next six months she’ll work with Bernardi for a smooth transition.
“I’ve been very fortunate, for the last six years I’ve been working in central office next to Mr. Bernardi, first as district principal, now as assistant superintendent.”
Bernardi’s flashy demeanor contrasts starkly with Serino’s nurturing manner.
“Our styles may not be exactly the same and our personalities are completely different,” Serino said. “But that’s good because different people have different talents. One of the things Mr. Bernardi is good at is knowing the legal ramifications of things, a lot of the fiscal end. I’m more of the people person.”
Serino will eventually move into Bernardi’s office (it has a private bathroom), but she’s happy to wait in the wings until her time. “I’m not nipping at his heels.”
Serino, 60, grew up in Harding with three brothers and sisters. She went to school at Exeter Township Elementary, now the Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School. She attended West Pittston High School until it merged into Wyoming Area and graduated from there in 1970.
She received a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education/early childhood education from College Misericordia in Dallas Township and a Master of Science degree in school leadership from Marywood University in Scranton. She also has her principal and superintendent certificates from Marywood.
Her career started in the Wyoming Area School District as a summer school instructor and substitute teacher. In 1979, she started teaching grades seven and eight at Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Dupont. She served as the school’s principal from 1992 to 2001.
When she moved to the Wyoming Area School District in 2001, Serino served as an elementary principal, the district elementary principal, the district principal of curriculum and assistant superintendent.
Serino said she didn’t want to go into detail about the current teachers’ strike, but is hopeful the board and the union come to an agreement.
“When the strike is finally over, it’s very important that the school district continue to run,” Serinio said. “When the teachers come back, we need to pick up where we left off after that third day of school.”
She said the administration is hopeful.
“I do believe the teachers really want to teach and want to be here,” she said. “That’s the key. And we want them to be here. We just have to figure out how to do that.”
First on Serino’s agenda is to get out and listen.
“I want to start to talk to people, starting with our students,” Serino said. “I may walk down to the cafeteria once school is back and sit with some of them. I know most of the students. I have had many of them when I was principal at the elementary school. I want to know what they think is great about Wyoming Area and I want to know what they think is no so great.”
Serino said she will also do that with teachers and staff as well.
“I need to get insight as to how people are thinking,” she said. “A superintendent does not sit on an island by themselves.”
As superintendent, Serino will wear many hats, but many she has worn before.
“I didn’t have a secretary at Sacred Heart and I had to answer my own phone,” she said. “I did my own newsletter. I even painted desks from Pittston Area when we got them for free. You did all of that. Coming from that beginning, from having to do all of those things, when I came here I was absolutely spoiled.”
She said it was too early to form an opinion if all the district facilities should remain open.
“It’s a hot issue,” Serino said. “Before any decisions are made, major decisions affecting students, patents, teachers, everyone here, it has to be studied. I can’t haphazardly say that is something that needs to happen. It’s a process. I would need, bring my experts together and listen to their advice. There needs to be long hard discussions about the schools.”
Her management style is simple. “I need to be fair and I need to be realistic.”
She said the staff will look to her to be a guide.
“I respect the teachers and I respect all the support staff,” she said. “There has to be a mutual respect. If it doesn’t exist, nobody will be able to do their job.”
Serino said the board will ultimately decide if a second-in-command, either a district principal of curriculum or an assistant superintendent, is in order.
“It’s a key position,” Serino said. “You need to able to bounce things off someone else. I will need to sit with the board and have that conversation.”
She said she wants to maintain a good relationship with the school board, but she’s not looking for “pats on the back.”
“I just want them to know I’m doing what they want me to do and I’m trying for a make a difference with the students. Are we making the kids that are on top better? Are we recognizing the kids in the middle? Are we challenging and helping the kids on the bottom? If they take one step, that’s improvement and I’m doing my job.”
Two of her role models are women in leadership roles at schools. Candice Finin the retired Delaware Valley School District superintendent who was an instructor when she received her letter of eligibility, and Nancy Tkatch, the administrative director at the West Side Career and Technology Center who was the former superintendent at Northwest Area.
“I know I’m taking the female side if it, but I consider myself a pretty tough female,” she said. “And those are two women I really look up to and if I can be something like them, I’ll be good at my job.”
She considers herself a role model for girls, but also a woman boys can respect.
“I’m very proud to have this opportunity,” she said. “Ultimately, I just want to do what’s right. This may sound corny, but if you do what’s right, you can’t be wrong.”
About 50 people, mostly Wyoming Area staff and family members of Serino attended the ceremony and were treated to lunch. In attendance were her husband, John Serino, her brother-in-law Fred Solano and her niece, Rachel Solano.
School board member Elizabeth Gober-Mangan introduced Serino and later said that as education chairwoman on the school board, she has had to work closely with Serino in the interviewing process.
“I’ve seen her in action and I have known Janet since my children were in school,” she said. “I’ve always been impressed by how she handles situations. She’s always handled things fairly and in the best interests of the children. She’s the best choice for the district.”
Gober-Mangan said Serino is a “smart, intelligent” person.
“It’s also going to be a different form of leadership,” Gober-Mangan said. “I’m looking forward to that breath of fresh air. It’s time for a change.”
Board member John Marianacci said he met Serino when she was principal at Tenth Street Elementary and followed her career up the administration ladder.
“She is up to the challenge,” Marianacci said. “I have complete confidence in her.”
Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Thomas Burke, a resident of the district, administered the oath of office. Serino said being sworn-in during a teachers’ strike when there were no teachers or students around was unusual.
“We have no teachers, we have no students, but we have all of you,” Serino said of the support staff that surrounded her. “Certainly you are extremely important to us. I want you to know my goal is for all of us to be able to work together as a team. I’m also looking forward to the next six months working with Mr. Bernardi so that draw up on his expertise.”