The 2021 grad class is the last that Howe Sound Secondary principal Nick Pascuzzi will be shepherding into adulthood.
Pascuzzi is retiring after 35 years with School District #48.
He started as a teacher in September 1986.
The majority of Squamish residents have likely either known Pascuzzi as a student or a parent — including this reporter.
(He was principal when my twins attended Howe Sound.)
Even after more than three decades of seeing hundreds of students each year, Pascuzzi seems to have an uncanny ability to recall each student's name and interests.
The Chief caught up with Pascuzzi recently to chat about what drew him to teaching, what he has learned, and what is next for him.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: What was school like for you as a kid?
A: I was born and raised in Squamish and attended Squamish Elementary School from Kindergarten to Grade 7 and Howe Sound Secondary (HSS) for Grades 8 through 12.
I had great teachers throughout my entire schooling and many wonderful memories of my time in elementary and high school.
I still remember the name of each teacher I had in each grade from Kindergarten through to Grade 12. They all had a very positive influence and an incredible impact on me, and I am still grateful to them to this day.
Q: What is the biggest change you have seen in terms of education?
A: The biggest difference between school today and when I was a student is the access to technology that students have in their day-to-day learning. It was in my Grade 12 year that I saw a computer for the very first time.
Our school acquired one class set of computers, and I remember students running to class to be first on a computer.
Today, every classroom in our high school is equipped with a class set of laptop computers with access to high-speed internet. Moreover, the vast majority of our students have computers and access to the Internet at home as well. Student access to information has revolutionized the education system in many ways. However, it has not replaced the importance of meaningful teacher instruction and the relevance of teacher-student and peer interactions and connections.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
A: When I was in my late teens, I did quite a bit of volunteering as a coach in our local soccer and baseball leagues. This was such an enjoyable experience for me that it made me think about becoming a teacher. Coaching children when I was a youth turned out to be a pivotal experience in terms of my career path, and I am grateful for the coaching opportunities I had back then. I also did quite a lot of coaching of basketball teams in my early years of teaching and enjoyed this immensely.
Q: Why did you want to be a principal?
A: A few years into my career, I had the privilege of working with two experienced school administrators — Trevor Harris and Alex Marshall. They both suggested that I consider taking on an administrative role in the school, which got me thinking about this possibility. They were both great mentors to me. In fact, I still keep in touch with Trevor today and enjoy chatting with him about current events and developments in our community.
Q: What have been the best and most challenging parts of your career?
A: The most memorable part of my job is seeing students walk across the stage at our annual Commencement Ceremony to receive their diplomas. I always feel a deep sense of honour and pride for each of our students at graduation, and it's also often an emotional time for parents. There is also a tremendous sense of pride among our entire staff, who have built very close connections with our students over their years at HSS.
Another special part of my job has been having students in our school who are the children of friends that I grew up with. I always enjoy sharing stories with them of their parents and grandparents from "the old days."
More recently, I am seeing children of children that I taught. I love sharing stories with them as well. I have even brought in a couple of class photos from years ago to show them their mom or dad in a class photo with me as their teacher. They are pretty awestruck. One student told me that it was the first picture that they had seen of their dad as a child. They took snaps of my old photos with their cell phones and showed them to their parents.
This year was undoubtedly one of the more challenging years I have experienced as a school administrator in terms of challenges. That first day of school back in September, seeing every student wearing a mask was something I could have never imagined. I'm still not used to it, and I know none of my staff is either. Our students and staff have shown tremendous resilience throughout the pandemic, but it has had its effects. These effects will linger for quite some time, and as a system, we are already putting plans in place to support all members of our school community moving forward.
Q: What advice do you have for those you are leaving behind?
A: The youth in our community are a tremendous group of individuals. They impress me to no end, and I am filled with hope for our future.
Our staff at HSS are among the finest teachers in the province and this is reflected in our high graduation rates. My advice would be, "Keep doing what you're doing — it's working and working well!"
Q: What is next?
A: I still feel I have lots to offer to the community, and I will be looking for other career opportunities.
I am open to all opportunities that may come forward that my skill set might match.
Q: Any final words?
A: It has been a privilege to be a part of so many children's lives over so many years in the same town that I was born and raised in.
I would also like to acknowledge my wife Diana. I am sure she must have felt like a single parent when things were especially busy at the school. I can't thank her enough for her unwavering support and all she has done for me and our three children over all these years.