Assistant principal always knew what was 'best for kids’

By Tom Haggerty

Hampton Union, June 22, 2004

It was clearly evident from the warmth of the reception to his speech and the hugs and fervent handshakes when he greeted them onstage that the graduates of the Winnacunnet Adult Diploma program were pleased and proud to have retiring Assistant Principal Fred Muscara joining them in the recent celebration of their accomplishment. While some who received their diplomas that evening may have remembered times when their dealings with Mr. Muscara weren’t as warm and positive, all there realized that this man had never given up on them and always had had their best interests at heart. He states his philosophy simply: "There aren’t good and bad kids. Kids make choices that are either good or bad. If they’ve made a bad one, well, we all do that. What is important is what they do afterward to help themselves and get back on track."

Before the conferral of diplomas, Muscara had spoken to the students about his own graduation many years ago from an evening school program after coming to this country from his European childhood and early adulthood. Following a successful military career, Muscara decided to become an educator. In his 15-year association with Winnacunnet he progressed from student-teacher to member of the social studies department and then, 10 years ago, to administrator. He served as dean of students for five of those years, and for the last five has been an assistant principal. Next month, he will continue his service to the SAU 21 educational community as interim principal of Hampton Academy Junior High.

Reflecting on his years at WHS, Fred says he values most strongly his interaction with students and staff.

"The staff was always supportive of anything I attempted. I enjoyed seeing kids grow from freshmen to seniors and seeing them mature. I’m proud of my involvement in the Close-Up Washington, D.C., program exposing young people to political life with (social studies teacher) Ed Beattie," he says, adding with a chuckle, "even though Ed and I have differing political views."

As for accomplishments, Muscara says he looks back with pride at his ability to bring together police, fire and town officials, school board members and citizens to frame the Emergency Response Plan, now used districtwide.

"What especially pleased me about that is the fact that we met frequently throughout one summer, and people were willing to give the time and effort to do what is best for kids."

He also cites the recent passage of the building expansion plan after previous unsuccessful attempts as a source of great satisfaction. Pointing to his identification badge, he notes, "We instituted that security measure here, and it has since been picked up by the area high schools."

In regard to security, Fred says he also takes pride in the successful implementation with the Hampton Police Department of the high school resource officer position. "With this establishment, school officials can do their job and the police department can do its."

Countless hours of Fred Muscara’s time as an administrator have been spent working with the local courts.

"We have had a 70 percent rate of success with court interventions for students to help them realign their priorities."

A meeting he says he will never forget took place in state Rep. Beverly Hollingworth’s office with Chief Justice Brock and other judicial luminaries in attendance. "They were asking me, an immigrant, all about the working of the family court system. This could only happen in America!"

Muscara is eager for the new challenge of guiding Hampton Academy through an important transition year.

"I was asked by Superintendent Gaylord to do so, and I am happy to continue to serve this community. HAJH has a dedicated staff and great kids. I will help them look for an individual who can lead the school successfully into the 21st century. I am under no illusions that it will be easy. However, the staff held the school together beautifully in the past few months, once again doing what was needed that would be best for kids."

This last is a phrase that crops up repeatedly in Fred Muscara’s observations about schools and education. Asked how he would hope to be remembered at the high school he has served so tirelessly and loyally over the last 15 years, he observed, "I leave Winnacunnet with sadness because of the great associations I have made with students and staff but also with enthusiasm to help out at the junior high. I have been consistent in standing up for my beliefs, in treating all kids fairly, and in helping teenagers navigate the turbulent world in which they live. Ya know, I often ask myself: Would I be able to walk in their shoes for even 24 hours? We deal with young people about seven hours of their day, and sometimes we have to develop a thick skin. They may lash out in anger, but many, many of them come back and apologize. We can never give up on kids. We can’t win 'em all, but we’ve got to keep trying."

Muscara’s summary judgment of himself was one we heard repeatedly from the soldiers under his command: "Tough but fair." To that we need to add "caring and committed."

Best of luck Fred, as you take the helm at Hampton Academy Junior High for the 2004-2005 school year.

Tom Haggerty taught English for 25 years at Winnacunnet High School, retiring in 1999.