Forty-two years after he first left, Michael Garzella has returned to Pittston Area.
The Pittston Area School Board hired Garzella, 59, of West Pittston, as superintendent on Tuesday, replacing George Cosgrove, whose retirement is effective Oct. 8, but who is using accumulated vacation time until then. The board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve that vacation.
The split school board voted 5-4 to hire Garzella.
Board President Anthony Guariglia, Kent Bratlee, Bruce Knick, Charles Sciandra and Marilyn Starna voted for Garzella. Bob Linskey, Richard Gorzkowski, John Donahue and Joseph Kelly supported Northwest Area School District Elementary Principal Joseph Gorham. Gorham, who is also a councilman in Ashley Borough, lost a bid to fill the top spot at Northwest last October.
Garzella, who served as superintendent in the Wyoming Valley West School District from 2006-2009, graduated from Pittston Area High School in 1970, and will be the first graduate of the school to lead the district.
"Quite frankly, it's great to be back," Garzella said. "Pittston Area has always had a place in my heart."
Garzella's salary hasn't been finalized and he has not yet inked a contract. His first day on the job is Oct. 9, when Cosgrove's tenure officially ends. Until then, Garzella, who was also appointed substitute superintendent from Aug. 27 through Oct. 8, will be paid $498 per day, a maximum of five days a week.
Born and raised on Parsonage Street in Pittston, Garzella attended the former Jefferson School. He attended high school, from seventh to 10th grade, in the former Pittston High School on Defoe Street, and then moved to the current Pittston Area High School when it was built in 1968. He was a member of the school's second graduating class in 1970.
Garzella received bachelor's degrees in elementary and special education from King's College in 1974. He earned a master's degree in special education from the former Marywood College and a doctorate in educational technology from Lehigh University in Bethlehem. He also took additional credits and obtained his superintendent letter of eligibility.
In his career, he first taught special education for the Luzerne Intermediate Unit, then became special education supervisor. He was at the LIU for 17 years. In 1991, he was hired by the Hazleton Area School District as assistant director of special education, subsequently became director of technology and then assumed the role of director of federal programs.
In 2006, he was hired as superintendent at the Wyoming Valley West School District. He left in 2009 with one year remaining on his contract.
Since then, he has been employed by Wilkes University, first as associate dean and currently as a professor of education.
Garzella is married to the former Carmella Vullo, a Wyoming Area graduate. They have two daughters, Lynn, who is married to Joseph Lundy. They live in Chester Springs, Pa., and have one son, Jack, 21 months. And Jamie, who is married to Liam Goodrick. They also live in Chester Springs, and have a daughter, Nina, who is four months.
Some of Garzella's fondest memories are about playing football and baseball for Pittston Area.
"I believe there was this homecoming game," he said. "It was extremely cold out and the ground was frozen. So frozen our spikes wouldn't even sink into the ground."
That was the game, he said, against Tunkhannock, where he ran for an 80-yard touchdown after catching a pass from quarterback Jack Linskey.
"Many of the friendships I've kept my entire life," he said of people he met while playing sports.
Jon McHale, a backfield coach at Pittston Area, supported Garzella during his high school career. Bob Barberi and Hank Walker were two others.
"I can remember one game, someone was injured," he said. "Coach McHale grabbed me by the back of the jersey and literally threw me in the game. I think he saw things in me that others may not have."
Garzella feels sports helps teach discipline.
"Being involved in sports, it helped build a strong character. There were so many life lessons learned through athletics. It's remarkable."
Guariglia and Linskey said there were 11 applicants hoping to replace Cosgrove, and that the board opted to interview four. One withdrew, leaving Garzella, Gorham and a third. Linskey said all three were excellent candidates, but he voted for Gorham because Gorham seemed more up to date on education trends.
Garzella believes he has stayed up to date because he trains teachers at Wilkes University, and must know the latest changes in public education. He said that, despite being out of a school district for the past three years, he's kept up on all the changes in K-12 education.
"Every change that happens in the school district first happens in higher education where we teach it."
Linskey worried Garzella won't stay with the district very long.
"With Mr. Gorham, we may have gotten someone who would be with us for a number of years," Linskey said. "I'm afraid that with Mr. Garzella, it's probably going to be three years, if that. And out."
But Guariglia said Garzella was a natural fit for Pittston Area.
Two major areas of concern the board wanted to address were technology and special education.
"Both of those, respectfully, are very costly but certainly we wanted someone with experience in those two areas," Guariglia said. "Mr. Garzella fit the bill.
"Mike Garzella will do this district proud," he added "He will move this district forward. I think he'll concentrate on the areas we need to concentrate on, first and foremost."
Garzella said the job at Pittston Area is a "great challenge and a great opportunity."
"My goal is to do my best to make the district the best we can. I want to make sure all students are prepared and put a focus on integrating technology in the district," he said. "I also have a great deal to offer with special education. That's my background."