Dr. Maria Schwab, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Phoenixville Area School District.
Schwab, 49, was just selected by the school board to succeed David R. Noyes as Phoenixville superintendent when he retires next summer. Born in South Philadelphia, Schwab has lived in Chester County for 28 years, and is a veteran of the county's public schools.
She has worked as a learning support teacher at the Chester County Intermediate Unit, been a principal at Hillsdale Elementary School in the West Chester Area district and at Vincent Elementary School in the Owen J. Roberts district, and was director of elementary education for the Unionville Chadds-Ford schools.
Schwab was hired as Phoenixville assistant superintendent in October 2006 after the school board, knowing that Noyes' retirement was on the horizon, conducted a statewide search for someone who could potentially be considered for the superintendent position, according to district director of human resources Joseph Anderson.
"It was never a given, though," Schwab said of her promotion, but it is now after the board's unanimous 9-0 vote on Dec. 3. A Charlestown Township resident, Schwab will take over for Noyes on July 1.
Are you more excited or nervous to be moving up to superintendent?
Answer: Very excited. It's just very nice that the board has been very, very supportive. They enthusiastically voted to appoint me, and that means a lot.
Q: What's the biggest challenge facing public schools in general? How about just in the Phoenixville district, which includes East Pikeland and Schuylkill Townships?
A: Being able to manage all of the mandates that we are now functioning under and continuing to receive and being able to do that under the limited funding we have under Act I. That is probably the biggest challenge when you look at the management side.
As for achieving, the hardest part is ensuring that every student achieves at a high level, regardless of their background. We have a diverse population here in Phoenixville.
Phoenixville is a town in the midst of some changes, with new restaurants and shops going into the downtown area in the past few years. What kind of effect does this have in the schools?
A: The fact that there are more business owners in the borough; that business owners are more successful, it's generated a group of business owners who are very generous and support education, and that gives us an opportunity to do things beyond our normal school day with kids.
It certainly is bringing into the community some more affluent families, so it changes the demographics a bit, but it's not an incredible change, I don't see that happening. It brings more recognition to the district because we have a neat town to visit. I used to tell people I worked in Phoenixville, and people didn't know where it was; that doesn't happen any more.
What will be the biggest difference between your current job and your next one?
A: Superintendent is much broader, and it's more fiscal. We have a lot of building going on in the district. Kimberton Elementary School, which we're hoping to break ground on in the next six to eigtht months, will take the place of East Pikeland. After that is done we'd need to renovate the middle school.
Have you always wanted to be a superintendent?
A: No. To be honest, I was a classroom teacher for 18 years, and when I went into education it was my intention to be a classroom teacher until I retired. I've had some great mentors who directed me to get into administration. In fact, three months ago if you had asked me, I would have said no.
Was there another field or industry you considered?
A: No, never, I always wanted to be a teacher. I miss the classroom; that's the hardest part of the job I'm in now.