By Simon Hoke and Katherine Mezzalingua
Nearly two months ago, David McCusker stepped up to the podium of the Manlius Pebble Hill gym to deliver his first address to students, faculty, and parents who lined the walls. McCusker was chosen after a long search process, beginning early last school year, to replace former Head of School Jim Dunaway. Even before the first day of school, he was taken aback by the culture at MPH. McCusker had heard about MPH’s welcoming environment before putting himself into contention to be Head of School, and it has certainly lived up to his expectations.
After attending high school in New Hampshire, McCusker attended Dartmouth College, where he played hockey, majored in history, and met an English major, Stephanie, whom he married soon after graduating in 1988. He said that he chose the major of history because the professor was “personally invested in his work and his students.” That investment has certainly rubbed off on McCusker. He values commitment to students as human beings, rather than teaching to a grade, and he was drawn to MPH because of exactly that. “I felt a sense of a community, who is enthusiastic and genuinely eager to learn as much as possible,” said McCusker about what he saw in MPH after his first visit.
Mr. McCusker has worked in schools his whole life; in fact, he had only previously had positions in New Hampshire or Massachusetts boarding schools, so adjusting to a day school in Upstate New York has been a change he’s learned to embrace.
“In that experience we were doing active programming with our kids from 6:30 AM to around 10 PM,” said McCusker. “We were going seven days a week, and there was something really enjoyable about that deep immersion, but there was also something rather exhausting about it.” MPH has certainly been a change of pace, and while Mr. McCusker is still very busy, he values being able to go home at night. He has been adapting to his new job since the start of this year, and his hours are one of the biggest changes for Mr. McCusker.
It’s not just Mr. McCusker serving in a new leadership role at MPH, though. Heads of Lower School, Middle School and Upper School have all just started their first year. McCusker spoke in glowing terms about Mrs. Abdo’s, Mr. Spear’s, and Mr. Montas’s work as his colleagues thus far.
“These are really talented, engaged, fully committed professionals, so they’re being really attentive and conscientious about all their responsibilities,” said McCusker. “They are, in some cases, addressing issues that they’re handling for the first time, and I could not be more pleased with how that group of division heads has responded.” He spoke in glowing terms about all the people who have helped him in his new role – more than helping Mr. McCusker understand his role specifically, his colleagues have displayed firsthand what it means to be part of MPH. Getting up to speed on the culture at this school, which he acknowledged was his biggest challenge going into his new job, will give Mr. McCusker an even greater sense for how decisions he makes will impact the community.
McCusker believes that members of the Manlius Pebble Hill community will be able to see gradual change over the next few years put in place by his administration, but nothing will be drastically different. His outlook on all the policies currently in place at MPH is characterized by respect for tradition as well as fresh perspective. While a transition in leadership can be challenging in many ways, it brings in a renewed lens with which to analyze tools that have been in place for years. McCusker acknowledged that he considers this aspect of his situation a benefit and he will be closely inspecting features of the school in the coming years for exactly that reason.
“For example, we’re going to begin to take a look at our daily schedule. For MPH, the daily schedule is a pretty significant tool of our education. So, we’ll enter into a period of conversation around the pros and cons of the current schedule, and everyone will be involved: students, teachers, parents, certainly myself,” said McCusker.
The daily schedule has been largely the same at MPH for around 20 years, and Mr. McCusker has heard only good things about it, but he feels that a piece of our education as important as the daily schedule requires some scrutiny if it is to be the most effective it can be. He also mentioned that school administrators will evaluate how MPH uses our campus space and how we can utilize it more efficiently.
Before Junior Maya Hiemes left her interview with Mr. McCusker for an article about campus security, he asked her to wait a second. “Now, can I ask you some questions?” he said. This epitomizes Mr. McCusker’s attitude throughout his time at MPH so far. Even as the Head of School, he is always eager to learn.