April 8, 2016Dr. Suritsky named 2016 Distinguished Female EducatorThe assistant/deputy superintendent of the Upper St. Clair School District was recently honored with the 2016 Distinguished Female Educator Award from the Tri-State Area School Study Council. The award was presented to Dr. Sharon K. Suritsky during the 14th Annual Dr. Jean E. Winsand Institute for Women in School Leadership on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, at the Edgewood Country Club in Penn Hills.
The award recognizes honorees for their leadership within their school districts and communities as well as their mentorship and assistance extended to others. Dr. Suritsky was nominated by Dr. Patrick T. O’Toole, superintendent of schools for the Upper St. Clair School District, who describes his colleague as a respected and revered leader, communicator and mentor.
“Dr. Suritsky is known for being the one who without fanfare drives several major district initiatives and projects,” Dr. O’Toole said. “She is highly skilled at maximizing the strengths of district leaders so that they collectively meet the goals of these initiatives and projects.”
In particular, Dr. O’Toole noted her ability to identify and nurture leadership qualities in others.
“She brings out strengths people may not have recognized in themselves,” he said. “She makes one feel safe to try new things, think outside of the box and take risks.”
Among the many professionals that have benefited from Dr. Suritsky’s mentorship is Colleen Czekaj, Upper St. Clair’s special education curriculum leader.
“Dr. Suritsky empowered me to exceed my individual professional goals and expectations,” Mrs. Czekaj said. “She has an uncanny ability to provide leadership by collaborating and problem solving, while motivating and instilling confidence.”
Dr. Suritsky, who currently oversees Upper St. Clair’s K-12 instructional program, joined the district’s administrative staff in 1996 as supervisor of special education. In 2009, acting assistant to the superintendent for curriculum and instruction was added to her responsibilities and in 2012 she was elevated to assistant superintendent. Dr. Suritsky has served in her current capacity as assistant/deputy superintendent since July 2014.
Among her many accomplishments at Upper St. Clair is her work with the Upper St. Clair School District Leadership Academies.
“Dr. Suritsky has a unique talent to take what many would see as ideas or areas without space to expand and grow them into opportunities that were thought to be unimaginable,” Dr. O’Toole said. “What started as an idea to help provide small-scale leadership training grew into a model framework that benefited the entire school community. Thanks to Dr. Suritsky's dedication, foresight, and leadership, the Upper St. Clair School District initiated leadership development for students, aspiring building leaders, aspiring central office leaders, teacher leaders, and support staff.”
Her colleagues also note that her genuine commitment – not just to the school district and its initiatives – but, to the people with whom she works is unsurpassed.
“While Dr. Suritsky is committed to bringing ideas to life, she is even more committed to the people who are doing the work,” Dr. Timothy M. Wagner, associate principal for program planning and innovation, said. “For this reason she considers pace, the organization’s ‘holding environment’ and readiness, and professional capacity in all that she undertakes. I always feel safe in a new endeavor alongside Dr. Suritsky — I know that she is committed to both the vision and the people.”
In addition to being a highly effective educational leader, one quality stands out to many who know Dr. Suritsky – her caring nature.
“Through every interaction I have had with Dr. Suritsky, the quality that stands out the most to me is that she is caring about others,” Erin Peterson, assistant middle grades principal, said. “She speaks with every person in every building, and makes each person feel as if he or she is the most important person in that moment. From custodian, to paraprofessional, to secretary, to teacher, to parent, to student, to administrator, she takes the time to truly listen and care. This is incredible in a leader.”
In addition to providing leadership in the areas of curriculum, instruction and assessment, Dr. Suritsky has been instrumental in the acquisition of grants totaling more than $185,000 to support academic programs and school safety initiatives.
Dr. Suritsky began her career in education as a special education teacher at both the elementary and secondary levels. In addition, she has previously taught special education courses at Duquesne University and Pennsylvania State University.
“Sharon literally exudes excellence in school leadership. It is clear to anyone who meets her that she is both serious and excited about teaching, learning, and leadership,” Dr. Louis L. Angelo, Upper St. Clair High School principal, said. “What is so rare about Sharon is that she has the ability to get others equally as energized about her values and beliefs. Simply put, Sharon’s colleagues buy in to her ideas because they buy in to her as a caring, supportive, and collaborative leader. She puts faith into others, empowering them to be creative and to take risks.”
She completed her undergraduate and doctoral studies in special education at Penn State University and earned her master’s degree in special education from Bloomsburg University. Her alma mater honored her with two awards including the Leadership and Service Award from the Penn State College of Education Alumni Society as well as the Excellence Award for Outstanding Professional Service and Teacher from the Penn State College of Education.
“Education is a noble, but by no means, easy profession. I have watched Sharon lead through difficult times in the district while balancing the many demands of being an acting assistant superintendent/special education supervisor, going to school, and being a mother,” Amy Pfender, director of student support services, said. “Even with so many demands, she never waivered and led by example. She displays integrity in all of her decisions and empowers others to know that you need to know yourself before you can lead others.”
The Dr. Jean E. Winsand Institute for Women in School Leadership is organized through the Tri-State Area School Study Council, which provides support and assistance to school districts, intermediate units, vocational technical schools and charter schools throughout western Pennsylvania. Dr. Winsand, former Tri-State associate executive secretary and associate professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh, passed away in 2001. The Jean E. Winsand Distinguished Woman in Education Award recognizes effective educational leaders who also value and cultivate emerging leadership in others.