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Q&A with Valencia High's new principal

John Costanzo took over July 1

Posted: July 20, 2014 8:25 p.m.
Updated: July 20, 2014 8:25 p.m.
Valencia High Principal John Costanzo officially took over the job on July 1. In 19 years of varsity sports at Valencia, the school has built a reputation as being one of Southern California’s most successful sports programs. Valencia High Principal John Costanzo officially took over the job on July 1. In 19 years of varsity sports at Valencia, the school has built a reputation as being one of Southern California’s most successful sports programs.
Valencia High Principal John Costanzo officially took over the job on July 1. In 19 years of varsity sports at Valencia, the school has built a reputation as being one of Southern California’s most successful sports programs.

Valencia High has built a reputation as one of Southern California’s top high school programs.

The school has only known one principal — the sports-minded Paul Priesz.

Its second principal, John Costanzo, who officially took over for the retired Priesz on July 1, has quite the extensive athletic background, though.

The Burbank High graduate played football and baseball at the school.

He coached varsity girls basketball and junior varsity softball at Arcadia High and was a wide receivers and defensive line coach for the JV squad at Glendale High.

The athletic background led to him being the assistant principal overseeing athletics at Saugus and West Ranch high schools.

Costanzo most recently was the principal at Rio Norte Junior High, but he also taught the CIF coaching certification for the William S. Hart Union High School District.

Costanzo has already been part of two significant athletic decisions at Valencia — the hire of Mike Killinger as head baseball coach and Chad Phillips as boys head basketball coach.

Those, certainly, are the first of many more big decisions he’ll be part of for the successful sports program.

Q: You said you are a bit “competitive and stubborn.” How does that competitive and stubborn nature impact the way you view athletics at Valencia High?

A: First of all, just before I left West Ranch and went to Rancho Pico as a principal, we had six (Santa Clarita Valley) teams in the Foothill League. I loved it. Every game is now a crosstown rivalry. I love how competitive the games were. Stubbornness comes in with competitiveness. You just have to keep going at times.

Q: Does the competitiveness and stubborness set the view for expectations with your programs and what you expect out of them?

A: Every coach in there is competitive, and when I say stubborn, all of us know in what we do is how it’s supposed to be done. And we have to convey that message. So you have to be a good teacher. You have to be a great coach. You have to be a great role model. But you also have to have that stubborness where you can say, “I’m going to keep working with you so we can get it right.”

I’m fortunate here in coming in because there’s been so much success that they have a formula of success. My job coming in here is they have their formula of success and are working with kids to get them to where they want to be and parents understanding that they’re making good decisions as far as preparing kids for the games, the season and the lifelong lessons.

Q: Because you have such an athletic background, do you plan on being hands-on with every program?

A: I will do what I did at Saugus and West Ranch. I loved talking to coaches and seeing what they have to say. I teach the coaching certification for the district. CIF regulations changed years ago where every coach needs to get certified through the program. It’s an eight-hour class — what new coaches go through. Coaches know the Xs and Os. They know signals and strategy. But the coaching certification deals with developing your philosophy and your theory and working with kids. What I did at those schools (Saugus and West Ranch), was I talked with the coaches. I knew who they were. I went to games. I’d ask them questions about what’s going on — “What about this player? What about that player?” I went to games and the next day I’d talk to some of them. “Hey, how are you doing?” “That was a nice game.” “How’s that ankle?” Because when you talk to kids you’re able to make a connection.”

Q: When you look at some of the success Valencia has had in the past, the past administration had this belief that you’re hands-on with your coaches in that you’re a support system. However, there were some controversies or issues in some programs. How important is accountability to you in terms of what your job is in overseeing these programs and knowing what’s going on?

A: It is important. You hire a head coach and in the process the head coach hires assistant coaches. There are things that you want them to adhere to within that philosophy with the CIF certification. And when you get that with your head coach, you have that with your assistant coaches.

Accountability is huge. It’s huge as far as managing the whole program. As far as a principal, you have assistant principals who are in other areas. You have the ability and trust in that (system) if the information needs to get back to you because as a principal, you’re spread out through the whole school. So you have to have these people in these areas managing them so you’re getting that information. I always spent time with the coaches going over issues. I always kept that door open as far as issues — what do I need to know, what’s going on, who’s doing well, who’s not doing well?

Accountability runs all the way through, from principal to the assistant principals, to head coaches, to assistant coaches.

One of the things we talk about in the coaching certification is chain of command, and we tell them it’s a very important chain of command as to who answers to who.  JV coach, you go to the head coach. Head coach, you have someone in charge, you go to the athletic director. Then you have an assistant principal in charge of athletics, and you have a principal.

Q: What’s your tolerance level for something you perceive as not showing good sportsmanship, specifically with coaches?

A: Coaches tend to sway in the heat of battle. I don’t think the principal has to talk to that person the first time, There are highly respected individuals who are doing things. All of a sudden the principal talks to them the first time, and it becomes DEFCON.

Q: Where do you see yourself getting involved when a parent makes a complaint?

A: First of all, you have an athletic director. An athletic director isn’t necessarily an athletic administrator, but it’s good that they can come to the athletic director. But I think the athletic director and the athletic administrator, they have to work closely where it’s, “Do I take this or do you take that?”

Q: When you were overseeing athletics at the different schools, what was the biggest issue you encountered in sports and what did you learn from it?

A: It taught me how to manage and lead a program. When you’re an assistant principal, you have to manage programs. But management only teaches you a certain amount of success. Leadership is the next step forward.
I think I managed it. Then there was the leadership.

Years ago, when I was at Saugus, the district allocated X amount of money toward transportation. But because of (budget cuts), it had to be reduced. So a manager would go, “Ooh, cry, cry, cry. Whine, whine, whine. What are you going to do?”

What I did is brought the coaches together, gave them their charges of the last year and told them the district adopted new rules.

I told them, “Here’s what you were charged last year. Here are some of the new rules. We need to take some money out of this transportation budget. What can you do within your thing here to cut down use of the budget while following these rules.

I heard, “We can’t do anything.” I said, “We have to do something. Here’s something we can do right here. Suck it up and don’t say anything.”

And we did it.


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