As the school year begins, a local school will see a familiar face as its new leader.
Frances Acosta is the new principal of St. Angela Merici School in Highbridge, but she is already an experienced leader in Catholic elementary education in the borough.
She was the principal of St. Anthony elementary school on Rosedale Avenue in Soundview for 18 years before taking on a struggling school in Manhattan’s Chinatown, which ultimately closed because of debt.
During a year-long break she ran a faith-based after-school program in a charter school. The 23-year veteran of the Catholic education system is now back and ready to take the helm at the school, she said.
The time away from Catholic education was helpful, she added.
“When you do something for a long time, it becomes stagnant: it becomes ‘what you do,’” said Acosta. “I think when you step away from it and then you come back, you look at things through fresh eyes.”
Being a principal is something “that never really leaves you,” said Acosta, who was raised first in the St. Anthansius Parish in Longwood, and then later in Soundview.
When she decided to return, she was humbled by the experience of having several superintendents vying for her talent.
“Somehow”, she said, “I felt the call in the south Bronx.”
She is a third order of Franciscan, a follower of the St. Francis of Assisi, and said she is dedicated to being a lay single Catholic.
“I don’t consider what I am doing a job, and the day that it feels like I am doing a job, it is time for me to move on,” she said. “I consider what I am doing as a mission.”
She said that she does not expect to make any major changes when she first takes over the 250-student school, and instead plans to observe how things are running before deciding what improvements are needed.
“Right now, my main goal is to gain the trust of the community and to help them to be better at what they are doing already,” she said. “This is the job of an administrator; you are as good as the people in the building.”
She added: “I always say that I am a teacher first; I just happen to have a title.”
Her new boss, Ray Vitiello, regional superintendent for the Northwest/South Bronx Catholic Schools, said that he and Acosta worked together as principals for years.
“She is a dear friend, a colleague that I have great respect for,” he said. “She is a definitely a woman of faith who will continue what her predecessor Sister Lourdes started. She is going to fit right in, and she has that perfect blend of leadership.”
The school is located at East 163rd Street and Sheridan Avenue, near the Bronx County Courthouse. Its website is saintangelamerici.com.