Tony Ciccariello Says Goodbye to Somerville High School
The outgoing headmaster spoke to Somerville Patch about his time at the school, his accomplishments, his memories, and the school's future.
Tony Ciccariello, outgoing headmaster of Somerville High School, gathered with school faculty and staff Wednesday morning to say a final goodbye.
One member of staff, Alice Comack, director of mediation at the school, called the gathering sad and "bittersweet."
Ciccariello, she said, has "been somebody that's been wonderful to work for and with," and it wasn't until Wednesday morning's gathering that the reality of his departure sank in. That's not surprising, because Ciccariello, who began his teaching career in Somerville in the 1970s and has been headmaster for six years, is still walking the halls of Somerville High School, finishing up end-of-school-year business, cleaning out his office and preparing to transition to John Oteri, who officially takes over as head of the school on July 1.
Somerville Patch spoke to Ciccariello Wednesday afternoon to discuss his career as headmaster. During the conversation, it was clear just how much the high school means to him and how proud he is of the school.
A lifelong Somerville resident, he graduated from Somerville High School in 1973, and his adult sons also attended Somerville High. The school has been part of his life, one way or another, for most of his life. He began his teaching career in Somerville in 1977 at the trade school, which eventually merged with the high school. Then, after working in the private sector and in City Hall during the mayoral administration of Michael Capuano, he got back into education, teaching social studies at Somerville High School, then coordinating the social studies curriculum in the Medford school system, and eventually becoming vice principal of Somerville High School in 2002. He took over from Tom Galligani as headmaster of the school in 2006.
Though he's retiring, for health reasons, he's hoping to stay involved in education and the school district in the future.
Ciccariello spoke about his time at the school, how he's feeling about retirement, and about some of his accomplishments, memorable moments and the high school's future.
Thoughts on stepping down
Ciccariello has "very mixed feelings" about leaving his post at the school, he said. "It was a real honor to be part of the lives of students who went through this school."
He's leaving for health reasons that he preferred to keep private, but he said he's not able "to continue to do [the job] the way I try to do it," which requires around-the-clock commitment and can be physical in nature. "Being present at games, being present at the musicals, at drama clubs"—to show students that their interests and efforts are important to him—is physically demanding.
In his six years as headmaster, Ciccariello pointed to a few accomplishments.
"We were able to have a full accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges," he said.
The school went through the accreditation process in 2011, and "that is a significant accomplishment for any school," he said, adding that "it was literally a three-year process" leading up to accreditation.
He also pointed to "our efforts to increase our extracurricular activities."
Being named Innovation School of the Year by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council was another accomplishment that, "for our science department, says a great deal," he said.
He talked about "the schools [colleges] that our young adults are getting into .. the breadth of these admissions, the quality of those admissions."
The high school's new health career center is another point of pride for Ciccariello. In fact, a new health career's education space, including a simulated hospital, was recently dedicated to the outgoing headmaster.
Looking back over the past six years, Ciccariello said, "a series of musical programs [and] our music department's growth" has been a memorable part of his tenure. The size of the school band has increased, and it's added a world percussion and choral program.
He also remembers fondly scholarship and awards nights, where people in the community help "our young adults who are going onto college with financial aid."
Goals and challenges for the school
Ciccariello pointed to some goals and challenges Oteri will likely address when he takes over as headmaster this summer.
"I think the MCAS piece is a challenge and will continue to be in the foreseeable future," Ciccariello said. The school's students have struggled to score well on the state's standardized test.
In addition to making sure students have the skills and mastery of content in the basic academic subjects, "It's as important to provide students at this school with art and music," he said.
He also said Somerville High School must now compete with other schools in the city. "We're not the only game in town," he said, referring to parochial schools, the Prospect Hill Academy Charter School and other choices parents and students have.
The goal, he said, is for students and parents to say to themselves, "I have no choice but Somerville High School, because that's where I want to go."
Ciccariello noted the diversity of the school's population. Many come from immigrant families and speak a foreign language at home, and there's a lot of economic, racial and cultural diversity. It makes the high school unique, he said.
The Somerville native, whose parents came from Italy, said, "We have traditionally been a community of immigrants … it's been a community to get a foothold on the American dream."
"This community has been evolving," he said, and, "growing up here, seeing the changes in the community. The changes have been positive."
"The high school," he said, "represents the hopes of our community."