LENOX -- When Lenox Public Schools Superintendent Edward W. Costa II leaves his Town Hall office today, he will end a 37-year career in public education.

It began modestly when he was named band director at the small school in Cache, Comanche County, Okla., at the age of 18, but eight years later, he rose to principal after earning advanced degrees.

Costa, 55, is retiring after four years in Lenox. Seeking to "set the record straight" about his decision after year one of his second three-year contract, the superintendent stressed he had absolutely no dissatisfaction with his position; on the contrary, he insisted that he loved the job.

(Edward Costa)

He pointed out that he has been a superintendent in Massachusetts for 18 years -- the first 12 in East Longmeadow -- and served for 27 years as an administrator, having supervised his first district in Muskogee, Okla.

"I've done urban, suburban, rural," he declared. "I feel very privileged that I've had that kind of career, there was never a job that I didn't like."

Costa has been teaching prospective school administrators one night a week during the past six years for the Springfield-based American International College, founded in 1885. "It's part of giving back," he explained. "I want to have my hands in the making of the new breed of administrators."

Several months ago, he learned of a full-time position available at AIC, directing the program he has been teaching and gaining a tenure-track professorship. The multi-titled position is director of Early Childhood Education, director of Elementary Education, and supervisor for teachers' and administrators' internships. He will continue teaching new educators as well as training principals and administrators.

"I wasn't expecting it, this wasn't even in my thinking when I signed another three-year contract in Lenox," he added. After consulting with his wife, Jane, the decision was made to seize the onetime opportunity. Costa starts his new job on Tuesday, and the couple will be relocating to the Springfield area.

Taking over in Lenox as interim superintendent will be Timothy Lee, principal of Morris Elementary School. A fast-track search is underway for his successor at the school.

In general, Costa's advice for superintendents is to "do the job because you love it, not because of the money." He commented that when the hours on the job are factored in -- 60 hours was "a good week" for him -- the salary translates into less than a teacher earns. Costa's final-year contract included a $115,000 annual salary.

"So," he stated, "you have to love the work. Even on your hardest days, your passion drives you."

It has been a momentous school year for the Lenox district as it completed the first year of its forward-looking strategic study. Still to be completed are five action steps to achieve the study's goals for the next three to five years, including consideration of shared services, the future of school-choice and other potential cost-saving measures.

The original contract with Public Consulting Group called for completion by early March, Costa acknowledged. "Clearly, we're past due,but for good cause," he said.

Now, five working groups with up to nine members each will examine five proposed strategic goals. Costa expects that phase to be completed in the fall -- "then, we can begin working the plan instead of planning the work."

On the possible efficiency of sharing a superintendent with another district, he asserted that "it's something we must look at, I'm not saying it's something we must do."

Since all superintendents are compiling similar reports for the state and federal governments as well as grant applications, Costa suggested, "couldn't you do that one thing for two districts?"

But he cautioned that intensive community involvement by the superintendent would be reduced if one covers two districts. "You might gain efficiency in all the mechanical things a superintendent does, but you lose that community flavor because a ‘supe' can only be in one place at one time."

As for school choice, adopted nearly 20 years ago locally, Costa declared: "There's no doubt, I'm a believer in it, and I was before I came to Lenox. When you can give to your own student body a diversity in all forms and shapes that you don't have in your own community, it's a salad bowl that if you don't experience it, you're missing out on life."

Costa, a grandson of Portuguese immigrants, recalled growing up in ethnically diverse South Boston.

"I understand what it is to explore other cultures," he said, "and it's the best of what our nation can give."

"Strategic planning evokes everybody's opinion, their passion and emotions," he said. "But that's when real work gets done, and to me, that's the beauty of it. I'm extremely proud of our strategic planning process."

He acknowledged that the superintendent's job "has become increasingly complex in the past five years, so much to do, so much legislation at the federal and state levels. It's like the cup runneth over, more mandates, and y have one person in the smaller districts. You're a head cook and bottle-washer, all at the same time and, my opinion only, that's why you see so many job openings. People are just saying there are not enough hours in the day."

But, Costa stressed, for him it has been "the best job in the world. I'm leaving public service on my terms, but not because of dissatisfaction, and I feel really good about that."

In his own words ...

Some parting comments from outgoing Lenox Schools Superintendent Edward W. Costa II:

On the district's strategic study: "Every time we went to citizens, we find more people wanted involvement than even PCG [Public Consulting Group], which does this for a living, imagined. I think that's a true asset for Lenox. People covet and are protective of their school system, and rightly so. It's a great school system and it was before I got here. Sure, people want us to get better, we want to get better. But they're also very proud of what this community has for an education system."

On the benefits of school choice: "It has allowed Lenox to be bigger than itself. For a breadth of curriculum to meet all needs, you have to have a substantial student body -- as an example, four pathways to math studies, advanced placement. honors, college prep, lab math for students who might need help. That would not be possible if school choice were cut in half."

On the effects of increased standardized testing: "At the end of the day, the most important relationship is teacher and student, bar none. That gets eroded by so many mandates, so much from federal and state government initiatives, even from our state legislature that keeps making education law and regulations that encroach at some point, when do we teach English, math and social studies? We're trying to continue to protect what I call the most sacred thing of public school, that contact time."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto