Merkle
Merkle (Bill Kalina)

Shelly Merkle is used to sudden beginnings - her professional life has been smattered with them.

In her 24 years in the York Suburban School District, Merkle has served as acting assistant principal of the high school, acting principal of the high school - twice - and, most recently, acting superintendent.

Merkle took all of those positions when former administrators unexpectedly left their posts. But she plans to drop temporary titles for good following her appointment in March by the school board as the district's superintendent.

"I hope my 'acting' career is over," Merkle said.

The board chose to approve Merkle because the members were impressed with the job she has done in the past three months, when she took over for former superintendent Kate Orban. They were also impressed with the work ethic Merkle has demonstrated during her time with the district, said board president Roger Miller. With a three-year contract in hand, Merkle will continue to build on her work from the past few months.

Goals: Merkle said most of the new responsibilities have centered on the budget for the upcoming school year - a task she knows will continue to be important during her tenure. Merkle said she's happy with where the district's budget is now, but one of her long-term goals is to look for ways to identify new money sources for the district.

"We can't just keep managing a deficit," Merkle said.

Merkle said another one of her goals will be to renew the close-knit bonds students, their families and the staff at York Suburban have fostered over the years.

Merkle said the stresses of evaluations for teachers and administrators, test scores and financial strains mean people in the district carry a burden at work that wasn't always present.

"We're feeling the pull away from that family feel and we've got to recover that," she said.

Staying connected: Part of that process will include using the connections Merkle has with her staff: As the former assistant superintendent of administration, she has overseen the hiring of every staff member in the district during the past eight years. She worked in the high school and made connections as a mom while her three children have gone through the district.

Merkle also visits schools to foster relationships with younger students, who know her best by her distinctive voice from the numerous "snow calls" she's made this winter. Merkle said she's working to have elementary students greet her by saying more than, "Hey! You're the lady who calls my house!"

Continued excellence: Some of Merkle's most comprehensive plans for the future will aim to continue the legacy of York Suburban's high student achievement.

Part of that vision will include investigating ways the district can support students in pre-school and early elementary grades. The district only has the funds for half-day kindergarten right now, but Merkle said she's hoping to find ways to establish better partnerships with students and their families "from the get-go."

Merkle's vision extends all the way to the senior class, which she hopes the district can support by opening the high school to include more internships and hybrid learning opportunities with "gems" such as York College and Penn State York. Merkle said she can focus on such goals is because the students are already doing well academically and in extracurriculars, she said.

"We are really in a great place," Merkle said. "Our students are graduating and they are prepared to be engaged citizens."

New administration structure saves money

York Suburban Superintendent Michele Merkle is working to foster a smooth transition after being named the district's leader last month.

One of her first tasks is to divide her former responsibilities as the assistant superintendent of administration. The school board voted to eliminate that position Monday night in a cost-cutting move.

The decision will save the district about $50,000, Merkle said.

In the former position Merkle mainly oversaw personnel matters, staff evaluations and the district's technology. Those tasks will be absorbed by other staff members, Merkle said.

The assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Patricia Maloney, will continue in her role. A principal might be named the director of educational services to lighten Maloney's load if she needs to step in for Merkle, she said.

The reshaping of district roles will also affect Merkle: The superintendent said she will remain involved in many personnel matters, including staff hiring.

"Every teacher we hire, we see that as a multi-million dollar investment," Merkle said.

Cuts have been happening across the district in classrooms and in programs to save money for the past several years, Merkle said. This restructuring, on top of other cut positions and a salary freeze three years ago, is the administration's role in saving as much money as possible, she said.

— Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.