Cocalico Corner: Collaboration a must for Cocalico’s Musser

By on August 24, 2016

Ella Musser

When the students, faculty, and staff of the Cocalico School District report back to their respective campuses, there will be a new leader in the front office.

Dr. Ella Musser assumed the post of superintendent July 1. That she was named to the top job was likely not a surprise to many. In the last two-plus decades, the Cocalico School District has promoted superintendents from within its faculty and administrative ranks.

Musser’s predecessor, Dr. Bruce Sensenig, was part of that tradition. Musser is the latest.

That continuity has been a boon for the district. There is a comfort level for staff who already know the superintendent from having worked directly with her. And a shared educational philosophy with the school board likely means no glaring showdowns at public meetings.

Indeed, Musser, at the still tender age of 47, has been a fixture in Cocalico for a quarter century now.

Fresh out of college, she started her education career teaching second, then first grade at Adamstown Elementary. After giving birth to her second son in 1998, she opted for part-time work as an instructor at Harrisburg Area Community College

By 2001, she returned to Cocalico to fill in for the reading specialist who was on maternity leave. The next year, as her husband returned to school, she continued at Cocalico as reading specialist and ESL teacher. In 2003, Musser was the full-time reading specialist at Denver Elementary.

She was concurrently teaching courses for other teachers dealing with struggling readers and, by the 2007-2008 school year became director of reading for grades K through 12.

In the eight years since, she’s served as director of curriculum and instruction, and, after earning her doctorate, rose to the rank of assistant to the superintendent prior to earning the top job.

In the process of interviewing Musser in her light-filled office accented by the Cocalico blue and white, there are two things one notices: a sparkling smile and a confident albeit humble attitude.

The joy stems from a professional goal fulfilled along with the personal attainment of a terrific life shared with husband Dave, and sons, Seth, 21, Micah, 18, and Josh, 17.

Students, those in Cocalico, and those at home — her sons who all attended ELCO — remain her top priority.

“From a teacher’s perspective, what really matters is the students,” she said. “That’s really the core of everything we do.”

Indeed, she was able to experience academic life as a parent in ELCO. She believes it was best that her boys were not in the same district where she serves as superintendent.

“When I go to their events as a parent, my role is different,” she said. “I experience what it is like not being part of the system where I’m making decisions but seeing how decisions impact others.”

Her two oldest sons attend the University of Chicago studying math and physics and Georgetown University studying government and economics, respectively. Her youngest, an ELCO senior on the football and wrestling teams, is already carving out his future. He worked all summer on a construction in preparation for career as a welder.

Musser is thankful her three boys are all driven to succeed. She notes that her own experience shows that college is not for every child, but not all successful and rewarding careers require four or more years of college.

Still, she insists, children’s literacy is the root of all learning.

And, to instill it in children, teachers must excell at reading instruction.

Just as she served as a reading specialist in the elementary schools, Musser also, as was previously noted, worked with teachers to improve their literacy instruction skills. To that end, she has worked with virtually all the district’s elementary teachers.

That experience has meant a lot to her.

“I feel like I got to know people by working side by side with them for the sake of the students,” she said. “We collaborated on so many topics. When it came to leading meetings, it seemed like a natural transition to be designated with leadership roles.”

Collaboration is a key factor for Musser.

She doesn’t buy the concept of someone seeking power for the sake of it, but rather for the ability to share it with savvy problem solvers.

“Together I believe we can accomplish so much more,” she said.

Indeed, multi-year curriculum programming plans she spearheaded as assistant to Sensenig will now be implemented under her watch. And, those plans evolved from collaboration with faculty and administrative staff.

Musser prides herself from never being far from the classroom even as she rose through the Cocalico administrative ranks.

“It’s the most refreshing to get into the classrooms,” she said. “I get to see how the teachers and students are working with the materials and resources I had been involved in (developing).

“I never get into them as much as I’d like with all the other work to be done, but I want to continue ti visit classrooms as superintendent.”

Students, as well as teachers, have Musser’s ear.

She’s pulled together an “advisory” group of students of about a dozen students, most from high school and some from middle school.

“…so I can meet with them about district issues,” she said.

Indeed, she wants her administrative and faculty colleagues to also hear the students’ points of view.

On Aug. 24, the day this issue goes to press, the Cocalico High School student council president and vice president will be with Musser and others on the teachers’ first day back to school.

They will lead the teachers in the Pledge to the Flag and will offer personal reflections on their Cocalico teachers through the years.

Musser said she asked the duo if they could find the time to do this.

Without hesitation, she said, each responded: “I’ll make it a priority.”

With that, it’s pretty clear that collaboration — students, teachers, staff, administration — is Priority One as the 2016-17 academic year kicks off with a new, yet familiar, superintendent at its helm.

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