Recently, John Musciano, retired Jeffco Public Schools coach, teacher, and high school principal shared his perspective on education for the benefit of our readers.
How did you put students first?
“I tried to spend as much time with students as possible,” Musciano said. “I did most of my administrative work early in the morning before school and after school to allow time to be in classrooms and halls, so the kids could see me. I attended all the activities.” Musciano added that, while it was an all-consuming job, he really enjoyed it.
He said, “When you talk to the kids, you have to make them know that you like them and you want to be personally involved with them.”
Musciano had an open-door policy with students; they would come to his office and he would help them with problems. “I had one young lady who had a bone disease, she was always in a wheelchair. If she would fall, she would break her bones. Anyway, she had a guard dog with her and she’d always have her dog’s toys in my office. He was on guard all the time and then she’d release him when she came to my office . . . Next thing I knew there was this big dog jumping all over me.”
“There’s all kinds of stories like that. Now, if I had it to do over again . . . I would spend more time with them, the ones that are needy. I would try to help them.”
What would you do to improve education?
“Curriculum would be the first place I would go. Second would be discipline,” Musciano said. “The best education is giving every kid the same quality education. I don’t care if he wants to be a bus driver, truck driver, physician—whatever the case may be. They all get four credits of math, four of social studies, four of English, two of a second language.”
However, he proposed something different during his tenure that wasn’t adopted. “Now, what I recommended was . . . you could have three diplomas: a general diploma where the kid takes the basic requirements; then you could have a vocational where the kid wants to go to Warren Tech Center and they would take the core classes at the high school and the vocational over there; then, the professional for the kids that want to go to college and they take all these courses.”
He commented that he didn’t like seniors using their last semester in high school to only take fun classes, because many are headed to college, said they should still have rigorous education and learn good study habits in that time. “I’m concerned about the percentage of kids that are in remedial courses at the university level.”
Concerning discipline, Musciano said that you can make the rules for students, then you have to tell them why. “Most kids want to be under rules and regulations. They’ll fight you tooth and nail, but they want you take care of them and have the rules and they’ll abide by them. I’d say ninety percent want to be under some kind of structure.” When asked what he would do more of in this area, he said that he would increase his efforts to keep the students from hurting themselves in any area: academic, social, physical.
How did you empower teachers?
Once teachers got to the time in their careers when they were tenured, some of them would just be going through the motions, Musciano said. “When I saw that, I would go with the teacher and I’d say, “Look, why don’t you go back to school and . . . be certified in another subject and get your juices flowing. Sometimes that worked.”
How did the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) affect your work?
“Everything regarding a teacher’s performance had to be evaluated and documented. In my experience as an administrator, it took nearly two years to terminate an inept teacher from the classroom,” Musciano said. He added that he understood that the union is needed to protect teachers from some bad administrators. “But, the majority of them do treat teachers professionally and they do want to have good teachers in the building and they do want to make sure teachers are doing their job.”
As students complete another year of school, what advice would you give them?
He said that students should take advantage of all opportunities available to them as ninth graders and they shouldn’t have to have those privileges available to the upperclassmen.
How do you look at education in general?
“The bottom line in education is the three-legged stool,” said Musciano. “It’s the parent, the student, and the school. Those three things are there, you’re going to have a kid that’s going to be successful. If one of those legs are knocked over, then I can show you a kid that’s having problems.”
What do you advise for a principal today?
“The first thing I would say is to use common sense,” said Musciano. He added that a principal has to be aware that he or she has three clients: students, parents, and teachers, give them equal treatment, and keep a balance. How can a new superintendent help principals? A superintendent can find the best people, support them 100 percent, and allow them to function within the capacity of being a principal, said Musciano. “One hundred percent supporting the principal is paramount. You have to allow the leader to lead. “
John Musciano retired in Littleton where he lives and volunteers in ministry with his wife MaryAnn. He worked at Bear Creek and Pomona high schools and opened Standley Lake High School. Also, he has been nominated for Jeffco’s athletic hall of fame.