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Muldown principal approaches role with emphasis on relationships

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | January 31, 2024 12:05 AM

John Coyne, for his 43 years in education, has always valued relationships.

Whether that is building helpful connections with the students, collaboration between various teachers or the correspondence between a staff member and an administrator — he believes the key to a productive school environment centers around relationships.

Since taking over as Muldown Elementary School principal last August, Coyne has used that philosophy to guide him.

“The people that do this job are here because they love what they do and they love those kids,” Coyne said in a recent interview. “My role as a leader in this school is to keep that alive, and to keep our relationship alive and supportive of one another…”

He added that since he started his career, the role of an educator has changed with more emphasis on being somewhat of a caretaker and being supportive emotionally for children. Every child and staff member has their own situations in their personal life, but his goal is to make school a supportive environment for all.

“There’s a lot of technical academic instructional things that are a part of it, but none of that can be done if you’re not taking care of yourself and one another,” he said, referring to the job of an educator. 

“That’s how I try to approach things — I try to be upbeat, supportive, sympathetic, listen, care for one another. It’s really easy to do when you have people that are willing to do the same thing. And a community that supports us the way they do,” he added.

In recent years with so much change at Muldown — including a new school building and adjusting during Covid-19 — collaboration between the staff has been paramount.

“When they work together, the collaboration that takes place, the bouncing of ideas and the communication – it creates a whole different atmosphere,” Coyne said.

BEFORE taking on the principal role at Muldown, Coyne was Muldown’s assistant principal for 12 years. He spent the majority of his career as a middle school teacher in Hamilton, and in Vancouver, Wash.

Coyne gained his bachelor's degree in K-8 education from Western Montana College, now called the University of Montana Western.

He started teaching in 1981. Coyne spent 18 years teaching various elementary and middle school grades there before he and his wife Leslie moved to Vancouver. While in Vancouver, Coyne obtained his master’s and administrative endorsement.

While looking for a job that would utilize his degrees and was back home in Montana — he is originally from Butte — he saw the job at Muldown open up late that summer. He recalls interviewing on Aug. 7 and having to be at work by Aug. 13. It was a quick move, to say the least.

He says the move to administration has been enjoyable for him, though there are days he still misses the classroom. He emphasized that getting out into the hallways and lunchroom to connect with the kids is still one of his favorite parts of the job both as the assistant principal and now as principal.

“I still try to get out in the hallways, just kind of meeting and talking to them and goofing with them, and It’s the most important part,” he said. “And I think they appreciate that. I think the staff appreciates the connection that the administration has with the kids.”

When Coyne isn’t teaching he enjoys spending time with his own kids and grandchildren. Coyne has three boys and three grandchildren. Most of them live in the Flathead Valley. He also enjoys fishing, working the yard, music and spending time outside. Oh, and football — Coyne coached football and wrestling for years and is a huge Green Bay Packers fan, which is apparent with the memorabilia that coats the walls of his office at Muldown.

COYNE ACCEPTED the principal job after the previous principal Catey Nasello resigned in the spring of 2023. She finished out the school year and the Whitefish School District conducted a search for a new principal. The district decided to hold off on hiring anyone new and asked Coyne if he would take over in the interim.

Coyne says he wasn’t sure at first as he is in the later stages of his career, but knew he could lead Muldown and take over seamlessly since he had been there for over a decade already.

“I was honored that they asked and felt enough about my abilities to take over this role. And so I said yes,” Coyne expressed. 

He said they also hired a fantastic assistant principal, Keli Miller, who came here from the Bitterroot, and oddly enough, taught at the same school where Coyne began his career.

“I can't overstate the impact she’s had on morale, the climate, the kids, everything. She’s very intelligent and very glad that we were able to get her here,” Coyne said.

He explained that the two work well together and the transition has gone well. Though he had some reservations about taking over as principal originally, the staff he is honored to work with every day and the support from the Whitefish community eased the adjustment.

“I’ve never worked with a group of people so dedicated to what they do... This staff in this community has just been so supportive. It’s made my role a lot easier, that’s been helpful,” he said.

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