Spotlights
Principal for new elementary school in Mays Chapel: Meet Steve Coco
07/16/2013

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Steve Coco has always been one to learn from the opportunities he has encountered in life.

In college, he had the chance to help found a national fraternity chapter and to open and manage a photography store – both opportunities to develop early leadership skills. As a young teacher, he helped to open the new Westchester Elementary School, learning lessons about community and teamwork.

And now comes his greatest opportunity as the first-ever principal of the new elementary school being built in the Mays Chapel area of north Baltimore County.

"I am really looking forward to building a new relationship and working with the community and in finding out how best we can serve the Mays Chapel community," says the soft-spoken, 17-year BCPS veteran. "The potential is limitless."

The summer for Coco, who recently finished six years as principal of Cedarmere Elementary School in Reisterstown, has been one of transitions. Following his appointment as principal of the new school, his farewell to the Cedarmere community was bittersweet. His entire staff wore "Believe in Steve" t-shirts on one of the last days of the school year, a gesture that "touched my spirit," he said.

The admiration is mutual. Coco is an administrator who values the concepts of family, team and community and he says he hopes to bring the same spirit to the new school at Mays Chapel when it opens in August 2014. "It's important for the staff to know that family matters, both personally and professionally," he says. "That's the sense of belonging I want to create."

He's had practice. Throughout his career, Coco has seen the value of partnership and collaboration, starting with his first jobs following graduation from Frostburg State University. Coco began as a Grade 4 teacher at Sparks, Westchester and Church Lane elementary schools. He moved into administration as an assistant principal at Hernwood and Bedford elementary schools before becoming principal at Cedarmere Elementary in 2007. Along the way, he earned a master's degree in education from Towson University.

When he began teaching Grade 4 at Sparks Elementary, the school community was still reeling from a devastating Sunday morning fire that reduced its 1908 school building to rubble. Working out of Cockeysville Middle School, the young Coco saw a community rally around his children and begin the process of renewal.

"Going into Sparks as a new teacher, one thing I took immediately from that experience was the tremendous amount of support that we got from across the county," Coco says. "That was my first experience with the tremendous power of collaboration. . . . I got to watch that collaboration, and that's very much what I'd like to see happen in Mays Chapel in the next 14 months."

When Westchester Elementary opened, Coco was there on the Grade 4 team, helping to open the new school and soaking in all the leadership lessons. "At Westchester, even though we came from different places, we all had the commonality of the district's vision. We all brought different pieces of ourselves to create a new school culture, and all those different skill sets made for an incredibly strong team.

"It was very valuable to get that perspective as a teacher of opening a new school," he says. "It's a great perspective to have as we open [the school at Mays Chapel]."

Now, as he begins a busy summer working out of West Towson Elementary School and preparing for the opening of the new school, Coco seeks to become a resource for his new school community. He is also spending his time hiring a "dynamic staff to reach our goals" and myriad other tasks, from monitoring construction to helping to select materials and school colors.

"There is certainly no manual for opening a new school, because every new school community is unique," he says.  "I want to know what questions people have for me," Coco says. "I'm extremely excited to build this community together with them, and I'm going to need their support along their way."

Coco also knows balance is important; despite the work associated with opening a new 700-seat, state-of-the-art school, he'll be sure to take time off to spend with his wife, three daughters and two-year-old black lab. A Catonsville native, he's an avid Ravens and Orioles fan, but any free time will likely find him outdoors – he enjoys camping, kayaking, surfing and hiking and, recently, began to devote his free time to coaching his daughter's lacrosse team.

For now, though, Coco is focusing his lessons of a lifetime making the new elementary school at Mays Chapel the high-performing, collaborative, family-centered community learning resource he envisions. "Everything has been connected along the way, and I've just had so many great opportunities," he says.

"I will have high expectations and I understand the vision of our district and I want to use the vision of our district to help mold the vision of our school community," he says. But right now, he adds, "I believe fully in developing a strong sense of community. Our children have to feel safe and they have to feel a strong sense of belonging. And to that end, I want to hear what people want.

"This is our school. This is our community."

Click here for a video of Steve Coco discussing his new opportunity as principal of the new elementary school in Mays Chapel.

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