John Saras looks out his office window at the rain coming down.
The weather is now something he has to pay close attention to in his new role as assistant principal/athletic coordinator at Baldwin High School.
From his upstairs office, located alongside the other principals, Saras focuses on academics. He still observes teachers, evaluates them and handles certain aspects of student attendance, state testing and data.
From his office in the athletic department, Saras sees his role as managerial and being about doing everything he needs to to ensure the Baldwin “athlete experience” remains strong.
Saras, 43, assumed the new dual role, continuing his job as assistant principal at Baldwin High School, while taking on athletic responsibilities on July 2.
The change came less than a month after Baldwin-Whitehall School Board’s controversial vote to eliminate the district’s athletic director position and furlough 28-year district employee Vince Sortino.
“It was cost,” Superintendent Randal Lutz said.
The district paid its athletic director $125,000. With salary and benefits, Lutz estimates the total cost of the position was close to $200,000.
“We looked at that athletic piece and said, ‘How can we structure that differently?’” Lutz said.
For the same amount of money, Lutz said, the district was able to retain an assistant principal and hire a director of security.
The district hired two new assistant principal’s for 2018-19, one to fill most of Saras’ old duties and the other to fill the former job of former assistant principal Rachel Sprouse, who became the district’s personnel manager.
The district raised taxes to the maximum it could for 2018-19, Lutz said, and still didn’t have a balanced budget.
“So, where else do we look and do we cut athletic programs and that directly impacts kids?” he asked. “We took a look at how do we administer the programs and said, ‘Can we do that more efficiently and can we get some better coverage from the instructional side as well?’”
Lutz said the change thus far has been “very effective.”
“Nothing has changed for our student athlete experience,” Saras stressed.
Saras’ job in the athletic office is to supervise events and coordinate with teams and coaches, Lutz said. On the academic end, he no longer will be assigned grade levels to oversee as an assistant principal.
Saras, a 1993 Baldwin High School graduate, has worked in Baldwin-Whitehall for 18 years. He started out as a math teacher at J.E. Harrison Middle School, then worked as an assistant principal at Baldwin High School for five years.
After earning his master’s in math education at the University of Pittsburgh, Saras went on to also obtain a master’s in sports administration from California University of Pennsylvania.
While he’s still evaluating teachers, he now also will be evaluating coaches.
He also has to make sure every aspect of the homecoming football game runs smoothly, which he jokes is “like planning a wedding for 2,500 people.”
Saras says new ahtletic secretary Diane Kennard helps a great deal, as he balances his duties between athletics and academics.
The percentage of time he spends in each role varies by day.
For Saras, keeping the lines of communication open with coaches, students and the community is important. Early on, he and Lutz held a meet-and-greet with the varsity coaching staff to let them know that while the faces may be different, the expectations remain the same.
Coming from the academic side, Saras also wants to promote high expectations in academics for student athletes.
He plans to use social media to promote programs at the school and the good athletes are doing.
Saras’ overall goal is finding ways to “advance and enhance the student athlete experience,” he said.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.