By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Friday, February 18, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
[Atlantic News Photo by Liz Premo]
HAMPTON -- While he was serving a 23-year career in the US military, Fred Muscara knew an Army colonel who had signs that read "Keep Me Informed" posted on all four walls of his office. The signs were plainly visible whether one was entering or exiting the room, or happened to be doing an about-face therein. In effect it was a standing appeal to the colonel’s associates to maintain open lines of communication at all times.
Impressed with that philosophy, Muscara adopted it as his own — in the service as well as a civilian, and throughout his career as an educator. Though he may have retired in 2004 after a 15-year hitch at Winnacunnet High School, he maintained that very same mindset when he was asked that spring to come on board as interim principal at Hampton Academy Junior High School for the 2004-05 school year.
And now that he has been offered the opportunity to sign an extended contract to serve as principal for 2005-06, Muscara intends to continue inviting members of the HAJH community — be they parents, students or staff — into his office so that he can be kept informed.
"I have an open-door policy," he says. "They can come in any time they want."
Muscara was approached in December by SAU21 Superintendent Jim Gaylord, who spoke on behalf of the Hampton school board when he asked Muscara to continue his tenure, albeit without the word "interim" in the title. Muscara was more than happy to oblige. The way he sees it, the new title will allow him to "get some continuity going."
"We started some new things; there should be continuity," he stresses.
Muscara outlines one of the differences between the two job descriptions. As an interim principal, he explains, "You work with things as they come along [and] you do the best you can." However, as principal, he will seek to "put things in place I believe in that are best for the kids, with the support of the staff."
It’s an endeavor that he is willing to take on wholeheartedly, welcoming plenty of input from others along the way on matters such as policy and curriculum, among many other issues.
"There’s a lot of things we have to look at and sort out," he says. "We can’t do it without community input. HAJH is in the center of the community in this town. It’s not my school; it’s the community’s school."
One way he hopes to achieve this goal is the formulation of the Hampton Academy Community Council, which was approved by the Hampton school board last month.
"We hope to meet after February vacation," he says, explaining how one of the group’s initial tasks is "to come up with mission statement." He also insists that "[we] don’t want to throw anything out (that works) just for the sake of starting something new."
Becoming part of the administrative staff at HAJH last year was indeed a change for Muscara. Though he started out as a student teacher at WHS in 1989 and moved up to the position of permanent sub, he eventually found himself serving as dean of students beginningin 1994 and, ultimately, as associate principal until his retirement.
"I spent 10 years in the front office," says Muscara. It was a decade in which he mainly served in a disciplinarian capacity — an administrative duty for which he again drew upon his Army background.
"[In the military], I was always taught to think. In order to survive on the battlefield, you have to be taught to think and act. Common sense must always prevail," he says. In the military, he adds, "you fight to win the battle; [in school] you do what’s best for the child, every time."
That is true no matter whatever the age and grade level of the student may happen to be, whatever path he or she happens to be traveling upon — particularly if the direction they appear to be taking may adversely affect their future.
"I like to work with those kids, challenging myself to [help] them keep on the right track," says Muscara, adding that one of his goals as an administrator at WHS was always to "see them walk across the stage to get their diploma." Muscara says he hates to admit that "high school is not for everybody, but it’s still important for kids to get a diploma. Twenty years down the road, nobody’s going to say, 'Where did you get your diploma;" they’re going to ask if you have a diploma."
Muscara finds the challenge of his profession at the junior high level may be somewhat different but just as important to take on.
"You have to navigate; kids this age are caught up in their own world," he says. "They’re learning to become independent thinkers. Our job is to make sure they become that without stepping out of bounds [and] teach them right from wrong." He adds, "They’re also very impressionable at this age; they look toward the adults in this building as role models, how we model ourselves." Ultimately, says Muscara, "We’re here for the kids; academically [and] socially. [We] try to make their learning experience here a good one."
Married since 1977 to his wife Marilyn, and the father of their daughter Amanda, Muscara was born in Austria in 1942. He left the country in 1957, coming to America in 1958 and joining the US Army in 1961 "because I couldn’t afford to go to college. I liked it so much I stayed in." He retired from the military in September 1984, going on to attend New Hampshire College (now Southern New Hampshire University) and earning a degree in business management. He eventually went back to school, receiving certification from Franklin Pierce College to teach Social Studies and beginning his career as an educator at WHS.
Now that he finds himself influencing junior high school students at HAJH, Muscara says, "I think I became a convert. They’re nice kids; great to work with. They’re funny. I like it. For 10 years I was so focused on discipline. This is really different — I can do some nice stuff with the kids." That includes fun activities such as putting on a chef’s apron and grilling hot dogs for last September’s back-to-school lunchtime barbecue.
Muscara still has a few steps to cover before assuming full principalship at HAJH. "I have a lot of work to do as far as getting certification; there’s a lot of paperwork to do," he says. "We’ll see how it goes. I’m thankful the school board gave me the opportunity to serve another year; I do think of it as serving."
Of course, his "Keep Me Informed," open-door policy will certainly stay in place.
"If people have any comments, call me, one-on-one — the good, the bad, the ugly," he says. "The good can always be made better; if I don’t know the bad and the ugly, I can’t correct it. Feedback is always appreciated."
The HAJH community is invited to provide Fred Muscara with any and all feedback. He may be reached by calling the school at (603) 926-2000.