MONTVILLE, NJ – Sept. 6 will bring a fresh new start to many students in the Montville Township School District, but most especially at Lazar Middle School, where new Principal Michael Pasciuto will have his first day with students in the building.
Officially he started July 3, and shadowed retired Lazar Principal Sharon Carr before she left, but Sept. 6 is the big day.
Pasciuto comes to Montville after two years as assistant principal at Glen Rock High School. Prior to that, he worked in the Cresskill, NJ junior-senior school for 13 years as a social studies teacher, and cross country coach. He was social studies supervisor during his last four years at Cresskill.
“I always wanted to be a middle school principal but I felt to be highly effective, I had to work in the administrative level at a high school to know where kids are going,” he said. “I felt that high school issues are different from middle school issues as kids get older, [such as] course selection and getting ready for college. I felt when I left Cresskill, I needed to have the high school experience.”
Pasciuto says the advice was also given to him by a superintendent, to work at the high school level before becoming a middle school principal.
The decision to leave Glen Rock was difficult for Pasciuto, but he knew he wanted to go to a district that was high achieving, where the community values education, and progressive with their five-year goals.
“I had a short list of four or five, and Montville Township was on it,” he said.
He interviewed for the position and was “very humbled and happy to get it,” although he was “very happy in Glen Rock.”
“I had developed a great bond with the faculty there,” he said. “My experience working with the parents, kids and community definitely a foundation for working with those here.”
Many parents will probably be interested in knowing if the cell phone policy will change. In the past they were not allowed at the middle school.
“We’re going to take our time to look at all things collectively and look at the rhythm of the school,” he said. “Every decision we make needs to match our vision, and ensure that we are helping kids build the capacity for success in the future.
“I want to learn about the school first before changes come in. I know some people are excited for a new person to come in to the school, and they want change rapidly, but schools don’t work like that. It’s going to take a little time for me to learn the staff, the school, the kids and what they’re looking for… I want to get reflection and feedback from the staff as we move forward. The first few months will be for me to learn the culture and climate of the school.”
Pasciuto sees an important part of being middle school principal to be communication not only with the high school but also working and communicating with the elementary schools, plus the central office.
“We need to give Montville Township students the capacity to be successful,” he said. “I want to reach out to the elementary schools and say, ‘Here’s our expectations of what the kids can do when they get to us. Is that realistic?’ And the same way going up [to the high school level]. ‘Here’s our expectations of how our kids need to be prepared. Is that realistic? Are we falling short? Going too far? Is there a balance?’ I have a pretty good understanding of what high school students need having worked at the high school level, but the specifics to Montville are going to take some articulation with the high school and central office.”
Pasciuto says that kids need to learn good work habits such as organization, good social habits such as respect and being compassionate, and good thinking habits such as problem solving skills.
“Kids need to learn how to critically handle any problem and then move on, because life is not about rote memorization,” he said. “If they don’t develop good work habits in middle school, high school becomes very difficult. Regardless of the content, if we can teach kids to think through things, carry themselves a certain way, and the work ethic and planning, we’re giving them the foundation to be successful.”
He’s also a proponent of “fail forward,” the concept of allowing kids to make mistakes.
“Try things until you master them,” he said. “Allow kids to do that and teach them accountability and reflection, and that will teach them the capacity to be successful.”
Regarding change overall, he says, “This place is successful. It has been successful. These kids are successful as freshmen and sophomores. There has to be some level of success. I’m not coming here with a chopping block. I’m going to take time to learn things and see how things work. But it will be different, because I’m different.”
Pasciuto has a young son and daughter. He said he and his wife enjoy fitness and outdoor sports like hiking. He enjoys golf and cycling, and since his family lives in a lake community he’s been showing his kids how to fish. He’s an avid reader, especially of historical fiction and crime mysteries. He enjoys Southern Rock and Blues music.