Leadership interview with Mark Musca, Albert College
Head of School
Highlights from the interview
As Head of School, Mark Musca loves his days at Alberta College. There’s the choir music that drifts through the hallways. There’s the beautiful dining hall where everyone eats together. There’s the historic Chapel where the whole school gathers. The best parts, he says, are less tangible—the camaraderie, the sense of community, and the guiding values known as 5 ’A’s.
The Memorial Chapel was built in memory of Albert College staff and students who perished in World War One and because it’s an old building, we don’t have a modern PA system. Every other school I’ve worked at, morning announcements are done where the principal is in their office, speaking over the radio system that’s then piped into the classrooms. We don’t have that. So the whole school gathers every morning in the chapel, and we run through, whether it’s the upcoming activities, there might be a chat—we call it Chapel Chats—based on the theme of the day.
We gather again as a community for lunchtime in Ackerman Hall. It’s a beautiful dining hall and we all eat there together. After lunch is the Arts Block, another favourite part of my day. Students are engaged in the various arts—one of them is Choir, and they do their choir practice in the chapel, which is very close to my office. I often get to hear singing in the middle of the day, which is wonderful.
We follow the Ontario curriculum, but throughout—whether it’s junior kindergarten all the way to Grade 12—we feel that that is the floor, not the ceiling. We add on top of that what we call our 5 ‘A’s. Our 5 ‘A’s are: Academics, of course, Athletics, the Arts, Active Citizenship, and Adventure. And so we really try to give a student a well-rounded education and experiences in all these areas. So an example would be, for Adventure, we have a great emphasis on camping and outdoor education, so even at a young, young age, we try to get students those experiences outside of the classroom.
Academics is only part of educating a child, and we provide leadership opportunities for students, and we provide opportunities in all of these other areas—the arts and athletics and so on—to graduate students who are well-rounded and ready for the next stage of their journeys at university.
Active Citizenship is one of our 5 ‘A’s, and we believe very strongly that students have to show compassion and to work to help others, both locally and globally as well. So we organize and students organize excursions and events that a) raise awareness and b) work to try and improve situations. So whether that’s Pink Day, where everyone wears a pink t-shirt in awareness of anti-bullying; whether that’s the ‘Sleep Out So Others Can Sleep In’ fundraiser that students do, where they raise money and then they sleep outside to raise awareness for the issue of homelessness. It’s about really educating students to the issues where we can make a difference and give back to the community.
There really isn’t very much staff turnover. We’re a small school, with a fairly small staff compared to other larger schools, so that the turnover is very, very small. The staff who are here love being here, and we have many longtime staff members living here—living, teaching and working at Albert College.
There are so many examples I can think of of someone who lives the school’s values, but one that comes to mind is a female student who graduated last year and she was the epitome of someone who embodies all five of our 5 ‘A’s. She did extremely well academically. She was a real star in the arts: she was an expert in the saxophone, played part of the quartet, and she was very active in all of the performances. She was a prefect and she really came to shine when the pandemic hit and we couldn’t gather as a community anymore in the Chapel. She was responsible for Chapel gatherings and the way she ran with our Chapel online, and included everyone and made Chapel fun, and peppered it with games, really speaks to me as someone who is a well-rounded individual and who cares about the community, cares about herself and cares about doing a great job. She embodies those 5 ‘A’s in my mind.
The alumni who have graduated from Albert College love the school and they keep close connections to the school. One thing I was struck by when I first started was the number of alumni who came back to visit—and not only recently graduated alumni coming back during the university breaks, but it’s not unusual for me to be outside on a Saturday and see a gentleman or a woman, who graduated 20 or 30 years ago, walking the campus to see their old alma mater.
The kind of student who is drawn to Albert College is a student who is interested in being part of a community—of a small community where everyone knows everyone else—where the emphasis isn’t only on academics. Academics certainly is very important, of paramount importance but it’s not everything. We believe in educating the whole child and giving them opportunities in all of these other areas of the 5 ‘A’s as well—whether that’s Arts, Athletics, Active Citizenship or Adventure. Students who want experiences in all of these areas are attracted to Albert College.
Yes, there would be a kind of student who wouldn’t excel here. A student who was not interested in the 5 ‘A’s, who only came for academics and kind of shut themselves off—it would be difficult because, of course, participation at Albert College in these 5 ‘A’s is mandatory. Every student during Arts Block has to pick an activity. Whether that’s Band, whether that’s Choir, whether that’s Visual Arts, whether that’s Drama—they have to do something. So I suppose a student who really wasn’t interested and didn’t want to participate would have a difficult time fitting in at Albert College.
We’re a small school, and in a small school, students can’t help but get to know one another very well. It’s the first school I’ve seen where students in different grades are really close with each other. In my experience with other schools, what I found typically was the Grade 12s hung out with the Grade 12s, the Grade 10s hung out with the Grade 10s. But because we are so small, and for our activities to run—for example, for Choir to be successful or for Band to be successful—students in different grades participate with each other fairly regularly. And what this leads to is a great friendship across all grades. It really creates a wonderful culture of family, of community, where everyone looks out for each other.
There’s a great deal of communication. Each classroom teacher, each subject teacher, communicates regularly with parents. But above and beyond that, we have an advisor system: all throughout their years of being in high school, students have one advisor. It’s a teacher assigned to them through all of their time here. That’s the main connection between home and school—the advisor regularly will call up or send an email if there’s an issue or concern. I believe very strongly, as does the staff, that communication with parents is really important and it’s key in the success of students at school.
If Albert College were a person I guess Albert College would be the life of the party. We’re not one dimensional. Albert College is not a school that’s focused solely on academics. We do well in all sorts of ways. So Albert College would be that person that you’d like to be around at the party, that could speak intelligently on whatever topics at hand, but would also be really interested in the arts and athletics, would be a global citizen who is into adventure. Yeah, I think that’s the personality about college.
We’re really uniquely located. So what I tell families is that, when they think of the great Canadian outdoors, that’s literally right at our doorsteps. We’re right along Lake Ontario; the nature trails and all those sorts of outdoor amenities are right along beside us. But we’re not so far away from the large city centres—whether it’s Toronto or Ottawa, Montreal—that we could still have students involved in those cultural experiences. And locally, we have a great relationship here with the town of Belleville.
From my perspective, what I hear—and I hear this over and over—is that a student and family who loves Albert College knows it right away. It’s something almost tangible they feel when they walk on campus. They feel that sense of community and camaraderie, which is very difficult to glean from a website.