Matthew Strine compared the job ahead to sitting on the nose cone of a rocket before it takes off.
“We’re primed for success,” the Shippensburg area native told the South Middleton School Board Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to helping deliver that.”
Only minutes before, board members voted 8-0 to appoint Strine the new superintendent of the school district effective July 1. His five-year contract runs through June 30, 2023, with an initial salary of $146,000 for 2018-19.
The vote Tuesday ended a seven-month search that started last August when Al Moyer stepped down as superintendent and the board hired Templeton Advantage of Newport as a consultant.
Staff, teachers and local residents crowded the board room Tuesday to witness what amounted to be a vote of confidence by a relieved board. The initial search for a superintendent fell through after the board could not agree on a contract with a finalist.
The board rebooted the search and broadened its scope from south-central Pennsylvania to the entire mid-Atlantic region. That included a public meeting where local residents gave their input on what to look for in a leader.
In the know
Strine was already familiar with the district when he applied for the job. He had moved to South Middleton Township shortly after getting married and lived in the community from 1998 to 2001 while working as a teacher with the West Shore School District.
“South Middleton is a place where I’ve always wanted to work,” Strine said. “It’s just a great place to be.” As a resident, he participated in a local triathlon, visited Children’s Lake in Boiling Springs and ate at the Fiddler’s Bar and Grill at the Mayapple Golf Course outside Carlisle.
This was the second time Strine had tried to land the position at South Middleton. Four years ago, he was among the applicants in the search that resulted in Moyer’s appointment.
“In the interview process, I didn’t feel I had to prepare,” Strine said. “I spoke from my heart. I spoke from my background. This is who I am. I am passionate. I am driven. I was put on this earth to do one thing. I am a superintendent.”
Strine is superintendent of the Tuscarora Area School District in Franklin County. His career in education goes back 22 years and includes experience as a classroom teacher, building principal and central office administrator.
A native of Southampton Township, Franklin County, Strine was a basketball player who graduated from Shippensburg High School in 1992 before playing the sport for the University of Delaware. In 1996, he earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a middle level math certification before landing a half-year teaching position with Big Spring School District.
Strine married in 1998 and moved to South Middleton Township. He lived there until a job opened up in Shippensburg where he worked as a math teacher for about eight years.
Meanwhile, Strine earned a master’s degree in reading education from Shippensburg University in 2001. This was followed four years later by a principal’s certificate in 2005 and then a superintendent’s letter of eligibility in 2009. Strine earned his doctorate in educational leadership from Widener College in 2015.
He started his administrative career as an assistant principal in the Waynesboro Area School District. He spent three years as a principal and supervisor of curriculum, instruction and assessment in the East Pennsboro Area School District.
The South Middleton board kept a tight lid on his appointment. His name first appeared in public on the special meeting agenda. Three board members could not attend Tuesday because of other commitments.
While arrangements were made for John Greenbaum and Christopher Morgan to vote remotely by phone, Elizabeth Meikrantz was unable to officially cast her vote. All three submitted written comments that board president Randy Varner read out loud to the public.
“What most impressed me about Dr. Strine was his vision for our district and the enthusiasm and commitment he will bring to this crucial position,” Greenbaum wrote. “His credentials are substantial.”
Morgan called Strine’s background and experience “a great fit for our district.” “He comes to us with a track record of success,” Morgan wrote. “He will do great things for students, faculty and anyone associated with our schools.”
Meikrantz wrote: “Dr. Strine impressed me from the start with a clearly articulated vision for South Middleton and a passion for education and leadership that is contagious.”
Vote of confidence
All six board members present at the meeting had something to say about Strine during the discussion period prior to the vote. Stacey Knavel said no other decision carries as much significance as the appointment of a superintendent.
“The effects will likely be felt long after our terms expire and possibly even after the superintendent has moved on,” Knavel said. “This search has been a long journey and has had more twists and turns than any of us ever expected, but we finally reached our destination. Tonight I feel more optimistic about the district’s future than I have in a very long time.”
Denise MacIvor extended a heart-felt welcome to Strine, his wife and three children; and vice president Steven Bear said the teachers and administration will be pleased with the selection.
Jonathan Still drew on his own experience in expressing both relief and optimism. “As an aviator, I’m a firm believer that attitude plus power equals altitude,” Still said. “We are heading for heights.”
At one point, Strine showed the board and public that he has a sense of humor. Standing about 6 feet 8 inches tall, the new superintendent reassured Still that he definitely has altitude.
In his comments, Michael Berk made reference to the input the board received from shareholders on what a superintendent must possess. That input helped to shape board member questions during the interview process.
Teachers, administrators, students and residents insisted the next leader have a sense of community and values tradition. They wanted a “strong problem solver” and “approachable visionary” who can motivate, encourage and, if necessary, get his hands dirty. “You checked every box on that list for us,” Berk said. “We’re confident you are going to be a great leader for our school system. Our children, staff and community are going to benefit from your experience.”
Varner read from a statement. “During the interview process with Dr. Strine, we made clear that even in these times of financial dark clouds, we didn’t want to be a status quo school district,” Varner said. “We didn’t want to be an average district. We didn’t want to just tread water. We told him we wanted to be even more exceptional than we are now.”
“That is a mighty big shopping list, even in the best of times,” Varner said. “But that vision … is one that Dr. Strine shares and talks effortlessly about. It is who he is. It is what he is going to bring to our district.”