Self reflection key for Puccio to obtain principal job


Spencer Goldstein

John Puccio is set to become Pascack Valley’s next principal, effective July 1. He was passed over for the position last year, and learning from that experience helped him get the job this time around.

Spencer Goldstein, Editor in Chief

During a board meeting on March 16, 2020, district Superintendent Erik Gundersen read over 70 letters from community members expressing their support for longtime Assistant Principal John Puccio to become the permanent principal of Pascack Valley.

Just over 13 months later, those community members have gotten their wish. And they aren’t alone in that regard.

“I am and will continue to be proud of the appointment and [of] having the opportunity to be the next principal,” Puccio said. “This place means a lot to me and the people are amazing, from students to staff. As I said, I’ll continue to be the proud principal of Pascack Valley.”

The district opted for Brian Hutchinson to become PV’s permanent principal last year; however, after the hire received backlash from the community, the board rescinded his appointment upon his request and former Pascack Hills Principal Glenn deMarrais stepped in as PV’s principal for the 2020-21 school year.

This entire debacle left Puccio with a decision.

“[I felt] disappointed, devastated, [and] upset [about not getting the principal job last year],” Puccio said. “When something doesn’t go your way, as a human, you go through a significant amount of emotions. It was important for me as an administrator – and, more importantly, as a parent – to really look at what happened. We all make decisions in our lives and [the question is] are we going to handle [failure] one way or another and I chose the path I chose.”

That path included a period of self-reflection that led to Puccio’s willingness to learn from his shortcomings in order to move forward.

“As a person, you need to reflect on your experience. For me and other parents, throughout life, we always talk about failure – and you know what, it’s okay to fail because that is how you learn,” Puccio said. “And that is how I look at this whole experience. There are things I have learned and maybe some questions that people still may have but the truth of the matter is that you need to learn through your experiences and that is what I went through.”

Having this mindset allowed Puccio to approach the principal application process from a new point of view. When the time came for Gundersen to make a decision, the choice was clear.

“Puccio was clearly the most qualified candidate this year for the position,” Gundersen said. “I am thrilled that I am able to recommend him to become the next principal of Pascack Valley High School.”

Yet, as obvious as the solution may have been, Gundersen and the district still made sure to do their due diligence.

“This was a long process. Back in February, we issued a survey to parents, students, and staff, asking them for the qualities and characteristics that they believe need to be present in a new principal. And so we used that data to essentially guide our questioning and interviewing process through the various stages,” Gundersen said. “Our first round of interviews consisted of some parents, a few students, staff members and a board member, and then they narrowed the pool down to about four or five candidates. We had a second round committee that was comprised mostly of administrators and supervisors, and then finally Dr. Bachenheimer and I spent some time with the final couple of candidates, and we came to the very clear realization at the end that Mr. Puccio would certainly be the best candidate to be the next principal. I’m very excited for Mr. Puccio; I’m excited for the students and staff of Pascack Valley and I think there’s a bright future ahead for PV.”

Puccio also spent much of the past year learning from those he works with – including deMarrais, whose 19 years at the administrative level, including eight as Hills’ principal, made him a well-qualified mentor.

“[DeMarrais and I] have had great discussions about the [school and] things we could improve, and it has been a pleasure working with him this year,” Puccio said. “We still have time that we are going to work together and I do appreciate the guidance he has given me.”

Gundersen took note of the positive working relationship between Puccio and deMarrais as well, attributing much of the credit to Puccio’s exposure to different leadership styles throughout his time at PV.

“I think a great thing for any assistant principal – and Mr. Puccio has been an assistant principal for quite some time – is to get exposed to different leadership styles,” Gundersen said. “I think what Mr. deMarrais did this past year was he brought in a very focused team approach to the function of the general office, and I think any time that an assistant principal can be exposed to a different leader, that’s a good thing and that helps an assistant principal grow. And in that regard, I believe that Mr. Puccio has learned a lot from Mr. deMarrais. Just as he certainly learned a lot from Mr. DeMaio over the years as well.”

Having spent 14 years in an administrative role at PV, Puccio understands that not every decision he makes will be the popular one. However, he views the betterment of the school as a team effort – one that will require contributions from the entire community.

“I’m still the same person who cares about the kids here – the students and the community,” Puccio said. “I foresee [myself] continuing what I had done and making fair decisions, and sometimes I have to make decisions that are maybe not popular but are what’s best for our students and the school. But the communication is going to continue with our students and parents. I see in this building a collaborative effort to do what is best for Pascack Valley, and [the school will] continue to grow from there.”