Hill School Principal Ed Moccia has had a storied career in the Revere Public Schools, but it hasn’t exactly been by the book.
The popular Hill School principal, formerly the McKinley School principal, has led the school from a place where its facilities were failing, and its test scores needed improvement, to a brand new building where students typically are some of the highest achievers in the district.
And it was done, as he said, in a little bit different way.
“I’m a rare case because I actually left the district for 12 years and came back and still got 30 years in the same district,” he said this week, announcing his retirement from the schools. “It’s a real different career path because typically teachers that leave don’t come back when they leave.”
Moccia grew up in Revere and attended the Shurtleff School, the Liberty School and the Wolcott School – all of which are no longer in operation. He went to high school at BC High in Boston, and graduated from Brandeis University. Shortly after completing his student teaching in Newton, he landed a job in his hometown of Revere in 1976.
He taught fifth grade at the Teddy Roosevelt School in the Point of Pines and said he fell in love with the profession, particularly the relationships with parents and students.
“It was social, emotional learning, which we do now, but they didn’t call it that back then,” he said. “I like the relationship part and the connections with the kids and their families. You could do that back then because you had the kids all day from 8:30 to 2:30 self-contained.”
However, his first love of teaching came to a sudden end when he and his wife were laid off during school budget cuts – which were much more frequent in those days. With two kids, a family and a mortgage, Moccia turned to the private sector and bought a catering business.
He continued to wait on being called back to Revere schools, but it didn’t happen for another three years, and by that time – he was knee deep in catered meals.
Things changed though in 1994, after the passage of education reform laws, and there was money available for more hiring. Moccia – who had always kept an eye on teaching – applied for an open position at the Garfield and was hired.
He said he brought a unique perspective back to teaching, including the misinformed opinion by many that teachers had it easy.
“I was always irked by the public perception that teachers had it easy because of all the holidays and having summers off,” he said. “I heard that all the time, but I knew how difficult and exhaustive the profession is. Unless you’re in the profession, you don’t know that one needs that time. The greatest concern in teaching, even today for me, is job burnout. Teaching is exhilarating and exhaustive.”
After four years teaching math at the Garfield, Moccia became the assistant principal there – a job he held for eight years. He transitioned to the former McKinley School as an assistant principal 12 years ago.
Some six years ago, in 2012, the former McKinley School had seen a retirement and needed a good leader to lift it up, execute new initiatives and usher in the new building project. It was a tall task, and Moccia was tapped to complete it – which he did, and with an A+ grade.
“There were a lot of initiatives being introduced when I was appointed principal, including extended learning time (ELT), school uniforms and the modular classrooms – not to mention the building project,” he said.
Moccia credited former Mayor Dan Rizzo and former Superintendent Paul Dakin with appointing him to the Building Committee and giving him a strong voice in the construction of the new Hill School – which is now five years old. He said he turned around and gave the teachers, students and parents a voice through him in that project as well. That input, he said, led to a very sound final product.
The Hill School is now one of the earliest starting schools in the state – starting four days earlier that the rest of the district. That, he said, has allowed a very enriching learning experience for the students – who now number more than 700 – and keeps the school day from going too long. He credited the teaching staff for embracing the ELT, and that the cooperation has led to great gains in student achievement at the Hill.
“A teacher could look at that as losing four or five days of their summer and they could resist that, but my staff never did,” he said.
The Hill School was also one of the first in the state to implement a school food pantry, which now serves more than 200 families a month with more than 10,000 pounds of food given out. It is a program in partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank and has been replicated in other parts of the district and the state.
“It’s staffed by volunteers from the Hill and the school community,” he said. “It’s a real community effort that is set up and done in two hours.”
That said, one of his favorite moments in teaching, and in community unity, was at the City Council meeting several years ago when a vote was coming to fund the Hill School at the site of the old Hill Park. It was a controversial vote, as the school was expensive, and there were many taxpayers who questioned the wisdom of such a price tag.
However, the school community – he said – came out in droves, and organized by themselves to let the Council know they wanted and needed a new school to replace the 110-year-old McKinley.
It was a blow-away moment for Moccia.
“It was a great night and it’s something that doesn’t happen very often, having so many people come out in groups and sharing their frustrations,” he said. “I don’t go to many City Council meetings, but I would have to say that was a rare moment.”
Perhaps the only other nights with so much participation were when Host Community Agreement for the proposed casino at Suffolk Downs was being considered, and when the Council voted to bond the five new school project in 2000.
It has all been fulfilling, Moccia said, but he said it has worn him down – as it is a job that never stops.
“When I took the job on, I knew, and my family knew, it was a seven-day a week and 24/7, 365-day-a-year job,” he said. “It takes that to do the job right. We knew the commitment this job required before I took it. So, family and things I have wanted to do have been on hold for the last six years…I have five grandchildren under the age of 4. I’m looking forward to doing things when we want to do them. I still love my job and I still love coming in. I’m not counting the days until July 1. I’m definitely not. I’m a lucky guy to work for 30 years and still love my job every day. I’m not sure how often that happens.”
Moccia’s last day will be on June 30, but he will likely help with the transition of the new principal. Superintendent Dianne Kelly has said the district would like to have a candidate chosen for the position by mid-April.