Forest Hills

A decorative compass medallion is shown on the floor at the Forest Hills High School in Sidman on Jan. 9, 2017.

Three area teachers are among nine candidates who have thrown their hats into the ring for the four seats available on the Forest Hills School Board.

Thomas Blanchetti, John Saksa and Jesse Scott, all educators at local districts, are vying for spots alongside Daryl Bodenschatz, Matthew Koeck and incumbents Galen George, Deborah Petrunak, Keith Rager and Daniel Russell.

Each candidate is running on both Democrat and Republican tickets, seeking four-year terms.

Bodenschatz, Russell and Saska are competing for the Region 1 seat. Petrunak, George, Blanchetti and Koeck are seeking the two available Region 2 spots, and Rager and Scott are campaigning for a Region 3 position.

Here’s a look at the candidates:

• Blanchetti is a physical education teacher at Windber Area High School who also serves as an assistant varsity football and track coach.

The South Fork resident’s goals for the board are to become more efficient, transparent and effective.

“I would bring experience as a teacher, parent and coach at both the varsity and youth levels that will make informed decisions on educational and athletic matters,” the Forest Hills alumnus said.

• Bodenschatz, also an alum, resides in Summerhill with a child in the district. He has an elementary education degree from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

“I want what is best for my daughter and all students,” he said. “I have no underlying agenda to be a school director. All decisions will be made in the best interest of the Forest Hills students in open meetings by all school directors.”

Bodenschatz is a manufacturing director with the American Red Cross and holds positions on Summerhill Borough Council, Forest Hills Regional Alliance, the Forest Hills Area Ambulance Association board of directors and the New Germany Athletic Association.

He’s served in a number of other capacities throughout the community and is a firefighter with Summerhill Borough Volunteer Fire Department.

• George serves as the president of the Forest Hills School Board and is completing his third term.

“My main focus as a board member is to continue to provide the best possible education for our students while maintaining fiscal responsibility for the taxpayers of the Forest Hills School District,” he said.

The district alumnus owns George Trailers Inc. and has a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University and a master’s from St. Francis University.

He is also vice chairman of the Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center board, a member of the budget and finance committee and chairman of the building and grounds committee at Forest Hills.

• Koeck resides in Croyle Township and is a contractor who said he wants to be a positive voice for the district. He said he would “bring change when and where needed while upholding the excellence (Forest Hills) is built upon.”

Koeck added that he’s an open-minded person who will offer his out-of-the-box ideas and solutions to the board.

• Petrunak is campaigning for reelection and has served on the Forest Hills board since 1992. Her focus is on getting the students back to a more normal education environment after the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

Petrunak, who lives in Croyle Township, also wants to provide the learners with the tools they need to succeed after school and keep the district fiscally sound.

• Rager is running for his second four-year term on the board and has resided in the community for more than 40 years. He’s a Richland graduate who’s served in the U.S. Marines and worked for UPS. He is an insurance agent with Prudential and Liberty Mutual.

Rager said he loves the people in the Forest Hills area and touted recent accomplishments of the board, such as the outdoor athletic complex and the baseball field renovation, the purchase of computers and community outreach during the pandemic.

“I am confident I have the skill set necessary to face the upcoming challenges,” he said.

• Russell is an appointee from the previous year who is running to retain his seat. He’s a 1991 Forest Hills graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Juniata College and a doctor of optometry degree from Pennsylvania College of Optometry.

“My primary focus on this board of directors is to shape technology and educational opportunities for Forest Hills students and teachers while presenting a balanced budget proposal with no tax increases,” Russell said. “I want the children and young adults from this district to continue to become leaders, not only in this community, but in industry and education across the country.”

• Saksa resides in Summerhill and is a special education teacher at United School District who has also coached track and field, wrestling and soccer at Forest Hills. He graduated from the high school in 2001 and has a master’s degree in educational administration from Point Park University.

“As a special education teacher, always doing what’s best for all students is very important to me,” Saska said. “I understand the importance of being able to differentiate our curriculum. I also know the importance of being able to appropriately work with families and stakeholders to ensure we offer the most beneficial educational experience possible for our students.

“It is essential that the community and school board work together to better the district. That is an important goal of mine.”

• Scott is a 2001 graduate of Forest Hills and is employed by Westmont Hilltop School District, where he is a technology education teacher.

“I have two children that currently attend Forest Hills and are involved in numerous sports and extracurricular activities,” he said. “I have enjoyed helping coach multiple sports and being an active member in the community. I feel that my 15 years of teaching experience will bring necessary educational input to the board.”

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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