June 4, 2010
Life inspires new superintendent
McGraw hires Harrisville principal who began teaching career in her 40s
McGRAW — Mary Curcio was a factory worker and a mother of six when she got her first taste of education, as a Parent-Teacher Organization officer who helped persuade Sandy Creek Central School voters to approve a new high school gymnasium.
She did not go to college until she was 35, became a teacher in 1994 because she wanted to have more income for her family and became a principal in 2003 because she wanted the chance to reach the next level as an educator.
So the 57-year-old is not surprised to be entering a new career phase as McGraw superintendent of schools, at an age when many peers are retiring.
The Board of Education unanimously appointed Curcio as the new superintendent Thursday, at a salary of $110,000. She is replacing Maria Fragnoli-Ryan, who is retiring in August after 10 years.
Board President Dave Bordwell was not available for comment this morning. Curcio was chosen among three finalists and will start in late July.
Curcio has served as principal for grades six through 12 since 2003 at Harrisville Central School, which straddles the Lewis and St. Lawrence county lines. Prior to that, she taught math at Westhill High School in Syracuse for nine years.
She said this morning that she wanted to move back to the Syracuse area for family reasons. Her mentor, retired Westhill Principal Rick Cavallaro, told her that educators tend to peak every six or seven years, which is when they should seek a new challenge.
“I only looked at one job, the McGraw job, because I love Harrisville,” said Curcio, who informed her staff of her new job Thursday before driving to McGraw to meet with the board. “It’s a little smaller than McGraw, 450 kids where McGraw has 500. I like districts of this size, because you have more time for kids, and adults have more time for each other. Kids do better in smaller classes. I thought if I was going to the next level, it had to be now, because I would retire at 62.”
Curcio and her husband, Rocco, live in Gouverneur, a 20-minute commute for her. He works for the state Department of Transportation, based in Watertown.
She said she teaches sometimes at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, giving professional development workshops for industry workers — she planned to conduct one today — and precalculus classes during the summer.
“My gift to myself,” she calls her teaching sessions.
Curcio grew up in Mexico in Oswego County as the oldest of seven children in what she calls very poor circumstances. She ranked in the top 10 in her class academically when she graduated in 1971 but her family had no money for college, so she worked at Will and Baumer Candle Factory in Liverpool.
“I was a line supervisor at 21, which was unusual then, a woman in that position,” she said.
She worked in industry until she was 35. Her children graduated from Sandy Creek schools.
Curcio said she became active in PTO “because I never believed it was the school district’s total job to educate my kids.”
She eventually became a teaching aide for handicapped children at Oswego County BOCES and liked it so much, she began to take courses at JCC.
“I knew if I didn’t go back to college and get a degree, my children would never have the chance to better themselves,” she said.
Curcio transferred the credits to SUNY Oswego, where she majored in secondary education in math, graduating in 1992. A teaching assistant position, paying $5,000, allowed her to work on her master’s degree at Syracuse University. She finished in 1994, when she was hired at Westhill.
“I learned so much from Joanna Masingila, the professor who directs that teacher education program,” she said. “I really credit SU with teaching me how to teach. I walked right into Westhill, my first job, and I had calculus and honors courses. I got solid Regents exam results. It was a great way to start.”
Curcio earned a certificate in advanced study in school administration at SUNY Cortland in 2003, then was hired at Harrisville.
She and Rocco plan to move to the McGraw area, somewhere in the countryside “with lots of land.” They hope Rocco can get a transfer.
They have nine grandchildren.
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