`We'll make a positive impact in a short time'

Edward E. Cozzolino: Brehms Lane Elementary

The Principals : Challenge In The City

July 18, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Edward E. Cozzolino has run just about every kind of elementary school Baltimore County has to offer - the cushy suburban one, the highly transient east side campus, the one he took from worst to near first by transforming it into a National Blue Ribbon School.

He has certainly never encountered a place like Brehms Lane Elementary, one of the toughest assignments in a city with more than its share of tough assignments.

"I certainly like a challenge," he said yesterday.

A challenge he will get. Tomorrow morning, Cozzolino expects to sign a contract with the state to be principal at Brehms Lane for the next three years. By noon, he plans to get to work.

Cozzolino, 50, has been hailed as a savior before, lauded for his way with faculty, students and parents. He has pushed up sagging test scores and sagging morale. At Middlesex Elementary in Middle River, on his watch scores on the state's signature test nearly tripled in one year.

Cozzolino brings with him an extraordinary passion for learning and teaching and proving that all children can learn, regardless of ZIP code. He has a trail of admirers across the county, some of whom wish he would stay with them a little longer, such as Connie Venanzi, whose twin daughters will be fifth-graders at Shady Spring Elementary in Rosedale where Cozzolino has been principal for three years.

"We're losing a good guy," she said. "He's very positive. The kids just respond to him. He's very family-oriented.

"He always said the school was part of his extended family and he treated us that way."

Raised in New Haven, Conn., Cozzolino moved to Baltimore in 1969 to attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. When he took his first teaching job at Scotts Branch Elementary School off Liberty Road, he thought his career in the classroom would be short-lived.

Nearly 30 years later, he's still in education. He has been principal at three elementary schools - Middlesex, Fullerton and Shady Spring - and spent a year as a mentor to rookie principals in the county.

His wife, Kathleen M. McMahon, also a veteran of the county schools, serves as director of elementary education.

Cozzolino isn't the kind of principal who stays in his office. He often wandered through the halls at Shady Spring. He gives out hugs and books and homework help. The kids treat him like some kind of celebrity.

Teachers never knew when he would drop in and catch a piece of their daily lessons. He likes to say he knows teachers are on their best behavior when he comes in for scheduled formal evaluations but he wants to know they are always teaching at the top of their game.

"The message is one of shooting for the stars, being passionate for education," said Marilyn C. Audlin, the assistant principal at Shady Spring since 1994. "He can convey the message. He's got charisma, enthusiasm and a passion for what he does.

"People can tell if you're phony, if you don't understand what you're talking about - he understands."

For Cozzolino, the challenge is surely part of why he is willing to leave the school system where he has worked since 1973. But the other piece is a little simpler.

"Clearly the lure was a salary, first and foremost," he said. The state is paying him $125,000 a year - far more than the $85,000 to $90,000 salary that county elementary school principals earn.

It's money he thinks all principals should make. For all the talk about how vital good teachers and good principals are in creating good schools, the jobs aren't that lucrative, he said.

"There are many people who would rethink going into education and administration if the salary was as attractive as this one," Cozzolino said.

While the money "was certainly an incentive," he said, "the more philosophical piece would say I really believe that schools - no matter where they are - can be organized, teach skills development and have community resources aligned so that all students can be successful.

"There's too many schools out there that have come to believe failure is an option. Failure is not an option."

In three years, after he has shared what he calls "the gifts I've been blessed with," he plans to return to the county in whatever capacity he is needed. He said he already misses what he has built in the Shady Spring community. He plans on learning a lot over the next three years and hopes to have more to share than when he left.

"I think we'll make a positive impact in a very short time," he said.

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