When Deputy Superintendent Ann Marie Costa told her mother that she wanted to be a doctor, her mom didn’t believe it was such a good idea.
She told her to be a nurse, or better yet, a teacher.
It was advice that Costa took, and students in the City of Revere for the last 42 years have been all the better for it.
Costa has been a classroom teacher at the former Shurtleff School, a visual arts teacher at Revere High School, an assistant principal at the Garfield, a principal at the Whelan School and – for more than a decade – the second-in-command in the district’s Central Office.
At the end of this school year, her impressive educational run in her hometown of Revere will come to a close when she retires. It is for her impressive career and her continuing progressive decisions in 2011 that Costa is the Revere Journal’s 2011 Woman of the Year.
Costa grew up on Revere Street and was raised in the Revere School system.
She said her mother stressed education because she was not able to pursue her education. During the hardscrabble days of the Great Depression on Revere Street, Costa’s mother had to quit school when her father died young. On top of that, her mother was blind and left with eight kids.
Three out of the family’s four daughters had to quit school and work as seamstresses and stitchers.
“They all had to quit school when their father died, and my mother stressed education because she was a very bright woman who couldn’t pursue her education,” said Costa. “All of the eight kids had two children each, and all of those children are college educated and serve as doctors, lawyers and educators. It’s because their parents valued education.”
With that background, Costa came up through the Paul Revere School and graduated from Revere High School. She got her teaching degree from Salem State and her master’s from Lesley College. She is currently finishing up her doctorate and hopes to teach college classes in education after her retirement.
During her time in the classroom, Costa touched many lives as a caring teacher at both the elementary and the high school level.
As a principal, she revolutionized the Whelan School in streamlining the arts into regular education classes like history and math.
“The school really flourished and we really pushed the whole arts theme successfully,” she said. “We used to dress up as famous Americans and have educational theme days.”
For that, the school and Costa won awards from the state’s Education Department.
That propelled her into a career in the front office, a job she said she nearly didn’t pursue.
“My husband and daughter told me that I should apply because I probably would never again have the opportunity to do this kind of work in Revere,” she said. “They were right.”
Costa and current Superintendent Paul Dakin both pushed many initiatives, but it was Costa’s yearly processing of detailed MCAS data that truly helped transform the district student by student.
As Dakin put it, Costa was instrumental in “mining” MCAS details and then helping teachers understand how to use it to improve.
Unlike many other communities that protested the MCAS upon its implementation, the Revere Schools used it to improve quickly and consistently. In great measure, that upturn came from Costa’s work.
“I taught for 25 ½ years before going into school administration and in my early days of teaching, every decision was made with anecdotal data,” she said. “When MCAS came out, we had evidence and that was important. I always tell my principals that data doesn’t lie.”
That data has been used time and time again to help groups of students, individual students, groups of teachers and individual teachers to improve and break cycles of weakness.
In fact, math has been a strong suit of the district every since it was identified as a major weakness with MCAS data and appropriately corrected.
It also should not be lost in translation that Costa is only the second woman in Revere to serve in a superintendent’s position. One of her mentors, Carol Tye, was the first.
“Really and truly the School Department was largely a man’s world,” she said. “Every single principal was a man when I started. Carol Tye was the first assistant superintendent and first superintendent. I’m the second female assistant superintendent and deputy superintendent in the district. I think it was education reform that changed all of that – the way people were hired. No longer was it just four votes of the School Committee.”
On a smaller note. Ever wonder about the unique and refreshing color schemes in many of the new schools?
That’s Costa’s work as well.
Superintendent Dakin said that in any other school district, she would have been a superintendent for many years, but never got the chance in Revere because he was ahead of her.
Costa and her family insisted on staying in Revere, never leaving for the suburbs or for a higher job, and for that Revere children have benefitted.
Certainly, she has left a mark on many young people both in the year 2011 and for the 41 years prior.