Through 21 years of friendship, Moscow school principals Brian Smith and Tony Bonuccelli rarely went more than a week without speaking, even when they lived hundreds of miles apart.
Bonuccelli is now the administrator for Moscow Charter School, and last week marked two years since Smith accepted a job as principal at both West Park Elementary and Paradise Creek Regional High School, but their friendship goes back to 2000, their first year attending the University of Idaho.
At the urging of a mutual drum tutor in Spokane, the two found each other on the first day of marching band practice and were fast friends. They became inseparable in their college days, Bonuccelli said, in part because they were both studying percussion at the UI’s Lionel Hampton School of Music.
“When you’re a percussion major, even though we’d have different classes, you’re around each other all the time — ensembles, practice time, supporting each other with our different recitals,” Smith explained.
Smith said that at first, he was majoring in performance, but it was Bonuccelli who urged him to consider a career in education. Both said the mentorship and support they found in their time at the UI was another force that pushed them toward the field.
In mannerism, Smith and Bonuccelli are different sides of the same coin. Where Bonuccelli is easygoing and quick to laugh, Smith radiates positivity and focused interest. Both have an amiable, outgoing demeanor but of the two, Smith is the talker. As he spoke this week, his tone gathered momentum.
“You meet these friends in life that you just know, OK this is someone who’s going to be really important to me,” he said. “We made this vow that we would eventually live in the same town together and raise our kids together.”
In the years after college, Smith and Bonuccelli parted ways for a time. Bonuccelli secured a job teaching music just across the Washington-Idaho border in Colton, where he would eventually become principal. Smith moved to Nashville, Tenn., to work as a professional drummer.
Even living several states apart the two kept in touch, talking at least once a week. When Smith began touring regularly with the country music outfit, the Adam Craig Band, Smith said Bonuccelli kept the entire tour company entertained with his phone calls and would sometimes even have band members speak with his music students in Colton. Whenever the band visited the northwest, Bonuccelli said he would drive out to see them perform.
“We’re so close that when my brother graduated from WSU, I couldn’t get out of a gig, so (Bonuccelli) went and it was exactly like if I had been there,” Smith said. “We were living in different states for 15 years and never missed a beat, I mean all the big deals — weddings, kids being born, new positions — we were there for each other, either flying out to see each other or just celebrating over the phone.”
Smith eventually stopped touring and settled into a series of education jobs in Tennessee, culminating in a principal post at Station Camp Middle School in suburban Sumner County. At this time, Tony had recently taken over as principal of Moscow Charter School. Even though they lived more than 2,000 miles apart, Smith said he often relied on Bonuccelli for advice and to be a sounding board for his ideas.
By this time, both men had started families and had sons of a similar age. However, Smith said after a while, he began to feel himself being drawn back to the Pacific Northwest “just missing home and wanting to work in the Northwest.”
In 2019, he had his chance.
“(Tony) calls me and he’s like, ‘Here’s your chance, buddy. You’re not gonna believe this but you need to give this a shot — there’s an opportunity to apply for a principal position in Moscow,” he said.
Smith applied, and was quickly selected to lead both West Park and Paradise Creek, moving his small family to town in July of that year. Both have logged important accomplishments in their work leading Moscow schools. Moscow Charter School recently finished a new middle school facility under Bonuccelli’s watch and Smith will be presented with the Idaho Association of School Administrators Gem Award for excellence in instructional leadership in August.
The two have also come to be known for the spirited wagers they make with students — and the often wacky consequences. When West Park students read 6,500 books in April, Smith spent a night in a tent on the roof of the school building. Students and community members stopped by throughout the evening to watch him play the drums from a perch on the edge of the rooftop. Bonuccelli’s bets with his students often culminate in him singing and dancing to pop songs while wearing a silly outfit devised by his students. This year, he could be found dancing and singing while dressed as a chicken-princess with a glitter beard.
“I hate glitter with a passion — with a passion — but they love it,” he said with a good-natured smile, shaking his head.
After all this time, they said it’s almost too good to be true that they would both find rewarding jobs in education in a town they have both come to love. These days, their families often spend weekends together and their children have become fast friends.
Bonuccelli said they both feel so fortunate to work in a community of educators that is deeply invested in its students. While the relationship is unique, Bonuccelli said the strong relationships between all local principals allows them to tackle issues as a team.
“If we see a student that’s going to fit better in a different school, we want to do what’s best for the kid,” he said. “We have great schools in Moscow, no matter if it’s my charter school, the other charter school or the public schools, for free education to students. There’s no better place to raise a kid.”
“Now we’re sitting here, being two best friends for 21 years, our kids are the same age and we get to raise them in a place like this,” agreed Smith. “It’s kind of a dream come true.”
Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.