Musick's goal: Make all kids feel welcome
Michael Musick says he's ready to spend the next year working to improve the Lake Oswego School District for all students and families.
Musick, who has worked in education for more than 35 years, became interim superintendent on July 1 following the departure of Heather Beck, who left the district for a new job in Singapore. A nationwide search for Beck's permanent replacement is currently underway.
In the meantime, Musick says he's looking forward to bringing his own insights to the district while continuing the legacy that Beck left behind. One thing that hasn't changed, he says, is the high caliber of people throughout the LOSD.
"My favorite part of working in this district has been the opportunity to not only work with great principals and teachers and support personnel, but also getting to know parents and their involvement and how much they care about the schools in this community," Musick told The Review. "It makes it a lot easier for administrators to know that they have trusting parents and parents that care deeply about their kids' education. It's a wonderful place to work, from that perspective."
Until his appointment in February, Musick served as assistant superintendent for school leadership; the district's 10 principals reported directly to him. Since joining the LOSD in 2015, he has led the district's efforts to improve student achievement. For example, he established Academic Support Centers for all students, especially those who are struggling, as part of targeted intervention programs that aim to improve graduation rates.
During his tenure, Musick has also worked to provide more challenging opportunities for students. The district now allows all incoming freshmen to take honors English if they want, for example, and significantly more fifth-graders now have access to more rigorous math classes.
Musick also was part of the team that researched and studied children's and teens' biorhythms and worked on logistics last year to make school start times later for teen students.
"When I started out as a teacher in 1982, I witnessed how districts and schools could fail or save kids," Musick says. "I have spent my entire career working to ensure all students are highly successful."
His appointment as interim superintendent drew immediate praise from Beck, who is now deputy head of school for the Canadian International School in Singapore.
"Mike's ability to support our principals has led to such positive outcomes for our students," she said in February. "It has been a pleasure to work with him, and I am excited for him to take the helm of such an engaged district."
For his part, Musick says he plans to continue Beck's work toward creating a diverse and inclusive school environment.
"One of the things we want to make sure of is that all families and all kids, regardless of their race, their gender or any of those pieces, feel welcome and feel included," he says. "We want success to be available to every kid. If we can do that during my one year as interim (superintendent), that's a great goal for me."
Toward that end, Musick has simplified his vision for the district this year to the phrase, "Envisioning success."
"We started with 'All means all.' Then we had "Better together." I think next year we're going to be talking about envisioning our success," Musick says. "All of the pieces that Heather put into place around diversity, equity and inclusion — and our work on teaching and learning, our communication areas and our bond work — are now coming to a moment in time where we're seeing results. We're seeing what has worked and what still needs work."
Musick brings extensive experience to the job and a history of working in a variety of school districts across social and economic lines. He previously served as the instructional superintendent of secondary schools at Blueprint Schools Network, which has a partnership with Denver Public Schools in Colorado. He has also held other leadership positions, such as achievement director for JeffCo Public Schools in Colorado; principal at Conifer High School in Conifer, Colo.; principal at Construction Careers Center Charter High School in St. Louis, Mo.; and associate principal, assistant principal and dean of students at Clayton High School in Clayton, Mo.
He holds a master's in Education Administration from Northeast Missouri State University and a Ph.D in Education Administration from St. Louis University.
"I went from (principal at) a super-high-performing school district similar to Lake Oswego to a Title I charter school that was 98 percent free-and-reduced lunch and 94 percent African American," he says, adding that he experienced many moments that made him think, "Wow, this is how poverty really impacts kids. How do you create systems to support these kids?"
Musick says he also learned a lot about diversity from students of color during his time in Denver, where many Latino and African American students faced threats of gang activity or violence. He says the skills he learned working in those environments will help him address equity and inclusion in Lake Oswego.
"Our lowest-performing demographic is students who are on free and reduced lunch," he says. "How do you create opportunities for students to engage and not feel different? We've got a long way to go there. We have to include that group of students and we have to be very intentional in how we do that."
Musick says he is up for the task, although it will likely require many difficult conversations.
"Change is about addressing the hard questions. True inclusion is a hard thing to tackle. I'm up for the challenge, and I know my principals are," he says. "Differences make us better. What I strive for, in our buildings, is for us all to ask how to learn more about each other. I'm absolutely hopeful. I wouldn't be doing this job if I wasn't hopeful."
Musick says one of his first challenges will be to become better known by engaging more deeply in the community, just as Beck did during her four years in Lake Oswego.
"I don't think a lot of people know me as a person, because I've been working primarily in the schools with my administrators," Musick says. "My challenge is to have people get to know me and realize that I've been doing this a long time, and I love it. I love kids, and I love school."