BY BONNIE PFISTER
Sherry Hazuda ‘98 knows all about the difficulties of juggling work, family, and education. She earned her college degree while working full-time and raising four children as a single mom.
Always active with youth-oriented volunteer work in her neighborhood of Beechview, Hazuda ratcheted up her commitment by joining the board of the Pittsburgh Public Schools in 2007.
In December Hazuda was elected president. In that role, she must help to set the agenda for a 26,000-student district grappling with dwindling enrollment, curriculum changes, and budget constraints. Compassionate and well-reasoned school board leadership is important, she says, but little can touch the role of parental involvement in helping a child succeed in school and in life.
“We’re competing with so much, technology-wise, and so many parents work outside the home,” Hazuda says. “It’s hard to make time to sit down and read with your kid, to make sure they’re doing their homework, that they’re getting up and getting to school on time. Or even enforcing bedtimes — how much can a tired child learn?
“It’s hard. I get it. It’s really hard. But when we become parents, we have to accept the responsibility that our role in life is now to help our kids learn and grow. Sometimes you think you’re too tired to argue. But you have to do it anyway.”
That is something Hazuda experienced in her own life. After high school she took a few community college classes, but put it aside in order to be a stay-at-home parent. Her four children were still small when her marriage broke up in the early 1980s. With her steno skills and a friend’s recommendation, Hazuda found a job at the phone company.
After a few years, she began looking for a college program that would allow her to go to school on weekends. She opted for RMU, earning a bachelor of science degree in business administration. “Because most of us were older students, we really came prepared,” she says. “We did our homework and we wanted to learn. The size of the class was small enough that it allowed you to develop a support base. And boy, do you need it.”
In those years, most free time was spent studying, often sideby- side with her four children. “We sat at the dining room table together with our books,” she recalls. “There were many nights when we’d all be doing our homework together.” Though there was little time for relaxation, Hazuda relied on a wide circle of friends — from classes, PTA, and other community volunteer groups — to help achieve a work-life balance. Debby Lesniak, a fellow volunteer with Hazuda at the Beechview Athletic Association, said her friend would often call and offer to help with yard work so that the two could have some time to chat. “She’d help me weed; she helped me build a wall,” Lesniak says. “Sherry really is a testimony to the way that women support each other.”
Hazuda worked for 18 years at the phone company, then took a buyout and moved on to an administrative job at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where she works from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to accommodate her school board schedule. She remains active with Beechview’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, and serves as lay worship leader for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Hazuda enjoys being in the classroom so much that she began pursuing a master’s degree in divinity at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary a few years ago; she studied for two years before the demands on her time made it too difficult to continue.
The school board involves 15 or more hours of meetings and preparatory reading each week, but also a raft of invitations to school plays, sporting events and concerts. “I try to go to as many things as I can,” Hazuda says. “I like talking to people. It a way to learn about the concerns that are out there that I wouldn’t have a way to know about otherwise.”