Happy school days lead to a rewarding career in education

In Education Week we profile some of our principals leading the schools they attended as students.

06 August 2020
Two photos of Sarah Casuccio as a student and now as principal.
Image: Then and now … Sarah Casuccio as a student and now principal at Milperra Public School.

The Aboriginal word 'milperra' means a welcome or a gathering of people.

That rings especially true for Sarah Casuccio, who has strong community ties to the south western Sydney suburb of Milperra.

Mrs Casuccio attended Milperra Public School as a child and was prefect there in 1992. She did work experience at the primary school while attending nearby East Hills Girls Technology High School; and she attended Western Sydney University’s Milperra campus to undertake a teaching degree.

After six years teaching at Milperra, earlier this year she wove another layer into this rich web of connections when she was appointed principal at her old primary school.

Her ties to the local community are part of the appeal of the job.

“My heart is with Milperra … I have known so many people in the local area for so many years, down to people who work in the local shops who are still here,” Mrs Casuccio said.

“Even people I don’t know directly, I often know someone who knows someone. Milperra is quite a close community.”

And, it’s a family affair. Mrs Casuccio’s brother Dean was school captain in 1997 and by next year both her children will be attending the school.

“I often reminisce about my days at Milperra Public School as a student,” she said. There are fond memories of overnight camps and excursions, and of the discos, dress-up days, talent quests and fetes held by the school.

“Milperra has always had a strong community presence; students are always at the centre of all decisions made and there is a genuine care for their wellbeing. That’s what makes it such a great school.”

Mrs Casuccio’s primary school teachers had high expectations of their students, but they understood that having fun was a crucial part of the learning experience.

Many of her primary school teachers were still at the school when she returned to do her Year 10 work experience.

“It’s the kind of school where teachers don’t want to leave,” she said.

Some of those teachers influenced Mrs Casuccio’s decision to become a teacher, including former Milperra Assistant Principal Garry Royston.

“Students were always so excited when they were lucky enough to be in his class,” she recalled.

“He was not only an outstanding teacher; he was also a highly respected staff member. He knew how to make learning fun and he got the best out of his students.”

Sarah Casuccio and Paul Butler standing next to each other.
Image: Paul Butler taught Sarah Casuccio when she was in Year 4 at Milperra Public School.

Mrs Casuccio also developed a special bond with Paul Butler, who began his career teaching her Year 4 class, and is still teaching at Milperra Public School today.

“He has said how happy he is to have started his career at Milperra with me in his class, to now having me as the principal at the end of his career.”

Mentoring from other teachers has played a key role in Mrs Casuccio’s career over the years, from the support she received from an assistant principal at her first placement school, Padstow Park Public, to the Principal School Leadership mentors assigned to her in her roles as relieving principal last year, and now as principal at Milperra.

Mrs Casuccio knows from her own childhood, that a child’s experience in primary school can set the tone for the rest of their education.

“If they enjoy school they are more likely to have positive memories of school. I think it would influence whether people want to have a career in teaching. Anyone who works in a school would had to have had some positive experience to want to return to a school setting,” she said.

But there is usually an extra ingredient for those who choose a teaching career: leadership.

Mrs Casuccio didn’t always have her sights set on being a teacher; at first she wanted to be a beauty therapist. Some sage advice from her mother pointed her towards education as a career.

“But I had always enjoyed teaching people things. If there was an opportunity to share or teach someone a new skill I would take it. Even at a young age, I’d share my knowledge from keyboard lessons with my best friend, even giving her homework!”

New to her position as principal, Mrs Casuccio said developing a strong, guiding vision for a school was “the first basic ingredient of leadership”.

“My personal vision for the school is for students and staff to thrive in an environment where they feel valued, respected and appreciated,” she said.

“A happy school increases staff and student morale and performance and ensures that everyone enjoys coming to school every day.”

  • Old school ties
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