by Jonathan Weaver
Dr. John Giancola, Jr. has not been back to the Armstrong School District for more than a decade, but he’s ready to continue “the best job in education” as Dayton and Shannock Valley Elementary principal.
“This is where I’ll finish out my career – I’m so excited,” Giancola said. “I don’t live here, but I feel like its home because this is where I taught for so many years. Starting and ending at the same place is pretty exciting.”
“I taught here for 11 years during the first consolidation wave. I was at a bunch of different schools – Lenape Elementary for most of that time,” Giancola added. “My last year of teaching, I was actually at Shannock Valley (teaching) extended kindergarten.”
A 1980 Seneca Valley graduate, Giancola has taught in Armstrong before being an administrator at Woodland Hills, Seneca Valley and Allegheny-Clarion Valley school districts. His last title in A-C Valley was that of principal and transportation director.
But, he always wants to teach – even if it is graduate students at Westmister College (where he earned his principal certification) or Butler County Community College (where he decided to pursue secondary education).
Giancola – who started August 19 – may be remembered as either a secondary social studies teacher, as a K-12 reading specialist or through teaching reading workshops to local parents or students.
“I think when you become a principal, you always miss being a teacher. I’ll never not miss it,” Giancola said, “and that’s when I finally found peace. When you’re an administrator, I help 600 kids every day – when you’re a teacher, you help 15-20, 25. If I can help that many kids, that’s the draw.”
While some of the schools are different, Giancola found a few familiar faces and names.
“Even though I’ve been gone for 16 years, it’s just like I never left. Some new faces – a lot of new faces actually – but some familiar ones,” Giancola said. “The parents and families at both Shannock Valley and Dayton are just top-notch, nice people. You really get to know people when you’re at a smaller school.”
Those include now-Assistant Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Soloski (a former Title 1 Supervisor), Armstrong Junior High Principal Kirk Lorigan (his former social studies student) and Michael Cominos (who also earned his principal certification at Westminster College).
Giancola was actually inspired to become a principal his first year in the classroom by former Kittanning Junior High and Central Elementary Principal Gary Thomas.
Giancola looks forward to pay it forward by mentoring other aspiring principals.
Now, local residents will see Giancola split time between the eastern elementary schools.
“I think it’s important that people see me as the leader of kids and teachers alike, and everybody needs to see me every day, so I try to do half-days at each (school). I try to alternate,” Giancola said. “I think it’s really important for the kids and teachers to see me every single day – it’s been working out alright during the past two and-a-half weeks.”
Giancola has degrees from BC3, Slippery Rock University and Westminster College, as well as his doctorate from Duquesne University.
“I always want to be better at what I do. Even though I have more years in than I have left, I want to finish strong and keep doing better for kids,” Giancola said.
Giancola is married and a father of two daughters – 15-year-old Maria and 11-year-old Olivia, who both attend the Freeport Area School District – and husband to Denise.