The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

June 2, 2014

Down to one

Superintendent finalist at M-W welcomes challenge

— MIDDLEBURG — Middleburg resident Leon Spangler didn’t hold back in his questioning of Richard “Rick” Musselman, the Midd-West School District superintendent finalist, during Monday’s public forum to meet the prospective candidate.

Spangler bluntly inquired if the board viewed Musselman as a “rubber stamp” to fill the leaderless district that has been thrown into high-profile chaos since the resignation last fall of former Superintendent Wesley Knapp amid charges of neglect and incompetence and suspension without pay of Acting Superintendent Daphne Snook in April for an alleged breach of the district email system.

Musselman said he couldn’t answer for the board, but that he expects to not always agree with board members and will stand up for himself.

“I’ll be very honest with the board,” he said.

Board president Victor Abate said Musselman’s leadership skills were a large part of why he was selected as a finalist from a pool of 16 candidates following a four-month search aided by the Chester County Intermediate Unit.

“I’m prepared for him to disagree with us,” Abate said. “We don’t want a yes-man. We want him to bring us fresh ideas.”

The board will vote on his hiring at the June 9 meeting.

The selection of Musselman, a 51-year-old father of four and grandfather of two from Thompsontown, was made after a series of meetings between IU representatives and about 75 faculty, staff, administrators, parents and community members to develop a candidate profile and ensure the district would hire a school leader to address the needs of many.

Among the many personal characteristics cited by the groups as necessary in a superintendent were excellent communication and media relation skills; a strong work ethic; team builder and an agent for “positive change.”

Several were concerned about the high turnover at the top that has caused the district to have six superintendents serve in the last nine years.

According to Mary Curley of the IU, many recommended choosing a candidate with an ability to rebuild trust and one person remarked “If that’s all they do, that may be enough.”

Knapp was among the 20 community members to attend the forum and welcome Musselman to the district. School administrators and board members Abate, Ronald Wilson, Nancy Kroh, Corey Smith, Jeremy Tittle, Shawn Sassaman and Christopher Nesbit were also there.

“I was hoping to hear his vision for the future,” Knapp said.

Musselman said he would wait to get into the district and meet with people before coming up with a plan, but said he’ll work quickly to address the leadership issues and dysfunction by being forthright.

“I debated whether I should seek out the position at Midd-West. I know at the core this is a very solid school district,” he said, before adding, “I like a challenge.”

A graduate of Millersville University and former Army company commander who served in active duty during Operation Desert Storm, Musselman began his education career in 1992 as an industrial arts and construction trades instructor at Juniata County School District.

A few years later he took a teaching job in Newport School District. While there he earned a master’s degree in education administration and elementary principal certification from Shippensburg University and, in 1997, was hired as the assistant high school principal.

In 2000, Musselman became an elementary school principal, later took a position as middle school principal in the district, and after continued studies, was hired to serve as director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

He left Newport in early 2010 for Hanover Public School District where he took a job as assistant superintendent. Two years later Musselman accepted the superintendent position at Juniata, which was struggling with steep deficits that cut funding to several programs.

Musselman is proud of his accomplishments in putting the district back on a good financial track in a mere three years, and said he’ll be as fiscally responsible at Midd-West while ensuring students and teachers have the resources they need.

Juniata continues to struggle academically, though, but Abate said he feels Musselman has the leadership skills to keep Midd-West scores rising.

According to the most recent data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Juniata County’s test scores were below Midd-West’s in 2012.

In 2011 and 2012, Midd-West made Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. Of the students tested, 79.3 percent were advanced or proficient in math and scores were higher than the state average, while 7.2 percent tested below basic. A little more than 75 percent of the students scored advanced or proficient in reading and 8.4 percent were below basic.

Juniata County made AYP in 2011, but received a warning for lagging test scores that were below state average in 2012 when 75.2 tested at the advanced or proficient level in math and 9.5 percent tested below basic in math and 67.9 percent were advanced or proficient in reading while 15.6 percent tested below basic in reading.

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