School Board Unanimous; Appoints Holtzman as MASD Superintendent

March 30, 2017 |

By Mary Shelly | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(Photo by Mary Shelly/Special to Tube City Almanac)

Dr. Mark Holtzman Jr. is the new superintendent of the McKeesport Area School District.

At a special meeting Wednesday night, school directors voted unanimously, with all nine members present, to appoint Holtzman to the position.
Holtzman's position is effective July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2022 including a salary of $140,000, subject to the terms and conditions upon execution of a written agreement between the parties.
Holtzman's work experience includes serving as MASD's Director of Secondary-Education and Teacher Evaluation from July 2015 to the present, McKeesport Area High School's Building Principal from July 2010 to June 2015, and as Dean of Students at West Mifflin Area High School from August 2007 to July 2010.

Holtzman also worked as a behavioral specialist for both MAHS and the UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

School Director Patricia Maksin was very vocal in her strong support for Holtzman. She said she did not originally vote for Holtzman seven years ago because of issues she had with his appointment, and because she also felt he wasn't ready. "You proved me wrong," Maksin said. "I learned to never vote against Mark Holtzman, because what Mark Holtzman says, he's going to do."

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Students Shine During School Board Presentations

March 29, 2017 |

By Mary Shelly | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Above: Shia Ethridge, 7, a student at Francis McClure, reads "Wake Me in Spring" by James Preller to School Director Ivan Hampton. (Photo by Mary Shelly, special to Tube City Almanac)

Fourteen first-graders from throughout McKeesport Area School District attended the March 22 board meeting in celebration of "Read Across America Day."

Introduced as "fluent readers" by Pamela Gordon, coordinator of elementary curriculum/instruction, each student read one-on-one with a board director as a slideshow of the students played for the crowd to see.

All of the students were wearing a handmade hat resembling the one in "The Cat in the Hat."

Board President Joseph Lopretto filled the room with laughter as he asked the first graders, "Where's my hat at?"

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McKeesport School Board Expected to Name New Superintendent Tonight

March 29, 2017 |

By Mary Shelly | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

A new superintendent of schools is expected to be named tonight at a special meeting of McKeesport Area School Board.

Superintendent Dr. Rula Skezas is retiring June 30, and the new superintendent is expected to take over the following day.

At the regular board meeting on March 22, parents expressed their hopes and concerns about Skezas' replacement.

"You need to make sure the new superintendent is aggressive in promoting achievement and proficiency," said resident Keith Murphy, who is concerned about low test scores in the district.

Murphy said certain strategies, such as setting the expectation bar at a higher level, need to be implemented in order for scores to increase.

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Turnpike Halts Work on Mon-Fayette Expressway Extension

March 22, 2017 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Map: Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission illustration via Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission

The long-delayed, controversial extension of the Mon-Fayette Expressway through West Mifflin, Dravosburg, Duquesne and Turtle Creek appears to be cancelled --- again.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced Wednesday afternoon that it will stop engineering and design activities on the planned 14-mile stretch between Route 51 and the Parkway East after the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission on Monday declined to endorse the project.

“The (Pennsylvania) Turnpike has a legislative mandate to develop the Mon-Fayette Expressway, but our role is not to serve as an advocate for the project,” said Mark Compton, chief executive officer of the Turnpike Commission, in a prepared statement.

“This is a regional project, and the decision as to whether it is of value to the region should be made by those who live there," he said. "If the region does not want to move forward with the expressway, we will certainly respect their decision.”

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If Cannabis License is OK'd, Company Sees Room to Grow in McKeesport

March 20, 2017 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Above: Pittsburgh-based PurePenn LLC has received conditional use approval from McKeesport City Council to erect a facility to grow and process medicinal cannabis on this five-acre site in the industrial park along the Monongahela River. The company is hoping to be awarded a license by state regulators. (Tube City Almanac photo)

. . .

A group of investors applying for a license to cultivate cannabis --- medicinal marijuana --- in McKeesport sees room to grow on the Monongahela River waterfront.

PurePenn LLC is applying today for one of only two licenses that Pennsylvania expects to award in southwestern Pennsylvania. A different group with ties to former Steelers great Franco Harris is applying for a license in nearby Braddock.

The competition is serious, said Gabe Perlow, chief executive officer of PurePenn, and many groups who are applying in the Pittsburgh area are doing so quietly to fly "under the radar."

PurePenn had hoped to do the same, he said, but needed to go public after their application for a conditional use permit required approval from McKeesport City Council. Council approved it unanimously at its March 1 meeting.

McKeesport officials have a good feeling about Perlow and the other PurePenn partners, Mayor Mike Cherepko said.

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Mayor Supports Landlord Ordinance; Property Owners Plan Organization

March 15, 2017 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

* Corrections made, 6 p.m.

In the wake of new city regulations that will require rental properties to be inspected every two years, a group of McKeesport-area landlords is forming a trade association to make sure their voices are heard before future laws are passed.

Damian Trujillo, who moved to McKeesport from California seven years ago and now owns five properties in the city, says he and other landlords feel as if they're being singled out unfairly.

"We're investors --- not slumlords," Trujillo says. "We're worried about all of the abandoned houses in the city, too, because we're worried about our investments."

But Mayor Mike Cherepko says the new property regulations, which require rentals to be registered with the city and inspected regularly for fire and safety code violations, are necessary and aren't burdensome.

"Responsible landlords shouldn't be upset about anything, if they're keeping their buildings in good condition," Cherepko says. "The ones who don't take any responsibility are the ones who should be more concerned."

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Violence Top of Mind for Mayor, Council

February 09, 2017 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

McKeesport City Council had a light February agenda. But the topics discussed by council members and Mayor Michael Cherepko were anything but light.

At their Feb. 1 meeting, officials voiced their frustration with ongoing and well-publicized gun violence, and discussed strategies for combatting it.

"The thing that scares me is the randomness of it," Councilman Jim Barry said. "They seem to be shooting for no reason."

Shots being fired during daylight hours are especially "shocking and intimidating," he said.

"It's one of the reasons I ran for council," Councilman Tim Brown added. "We all, as a city, need to step out and step up and do the same thing -- we need to let these kids know we care about them."

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Planning Underway for Monument to 'McKeesport 23'

February 09, 2017 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Above: Joe Hoffman displays one of 500 T-shirts sold in honor of the 'McKeesport 23'

CORRECTION, NOT PERFECTION: The T-shirts are being sold at cost and are not being sold as a fundraiser, Hoffman told me this morning. I apologize for the error. Persons interested in a shirt may contact Joe Hoffman directly at -- Jason

. . .

Organizers are in the final stages of fundraising for a permanent, public memorial to 23 young McKeesport men who died in the armed forces during the Vietnam War.

Joe Hoffman, retired White Oak police chief, said more than $5,400 has been raised toward the estimated $6,430 necessary to complete and install the granite memorial in the courtyard of McKeesport Area High School.

If all goes well, Hoffman said, the memorial will be unveiled at 12 noon May 13. At least 10 of the 23 families are expected to attend, he said. The public is also welcome.

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Two Dead in White Oak Apartment Fire

February 07, 2017 |

By Submitted Report | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Two people are dead following a fire today in a White Oak apartment complex.

The names of the victims have not yet been released and the blaze is under investigation by the Allegheny County Fire Marshal's Office and Allegheny County police homicide officers.

Crews were dispatched at around 1 p.m. to the townhouse-style complex in the 2800 block of Lincoln Way, near the Westmoreland County line. County officials said in a prepared statement that upon arrival, police and firefighters were told that people may be trapped in the apartment that was on fire.

White Oak police attemped to enter the apartment through the front door, but were forced back because of "high heat and smoke," county officials said.

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'Hand'-y PSGA Students Learn Engineering, Provide Helping Hands

January 30, 2017 |

By Submitted Report | Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(Editor's Note: This story was written by Linda Curinga, manager of marketing and communications at Penn State Greater Allegheny.)

Students in an engineering design class at Penn State Greater Allegheny learned about 3-D printing technology as well as the challenges faced by people who need assistive devices when they participated in a contest to design and make their own prosthetic hands.

The students, who were taking instructor Alandra Kahl's Introduction to Engineering Design class during the fall semester, participated in the nationwide challenge put on by the E-Nable Project and the Prosthetic Kids Hand Challenge.

“It’s always a plus when students can find a way to help others in the community while learning and expanding their knowledge base," Kahl says. "This project helped students to learn and hone basic design skills, and will, hopefully, be able to make it easier for children to perform daily tasks."

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