Rita Masotta Has Never Stopped Learning, Teaching
The St. Charles Principal has seen changes in students, teachers, parents over her career.
Remember the so-called lazy, hazy days of summer? No school? They ended three weeks ago for local students, who are working their way back into the groove of school bells.
But way before September, one local school administrator started to plan for this school year—even before school ended in the spring.
Rita Masotta has been at St. Charles Elementary School for a quarter century, this year is her 14th as its principal.
“I always enjoyed school (and) learning,” Masotta said Tuesday morning, from the quiet of her office, several days after the school’s back-to-school ice cream social.
“Education was always important to my parents," she said, adding they always told her to do her best in school. Her sisters work, she said, in the medical field. Her dad, Paul Cogan, worked as a pharmacist at Murphy’s Drug Store, now a sushi restaurant, downtown.
Masotta earned a degree in elementary education from what was then Lowell State College, focusing on math—untraditional for women at that time. She loved math, she said, and its logic. Her father would play math games with her and her sisters on Sunday afternoons, she recalled, games like Cribbage and memory games, like name the states and the presidents.
Then she married, young, she said, and raised a family: two daughters and a son. For a little over a decade, she worked as a substitute teacher in the city’s public schools. She and one of her sisters balanced their family life and work by trading babysitting.
When her children were old enough—John, the youngest was 10—she began to teach full time. For her first full-time teaching job, she faced a class of first graders at St. Patrick’s School in Stoneham.
She moved to St. Charles School a year later because there was an opening.
“Here I am, 24 years later,” she said, with a touch of a laugh about how quickly time passes.
At. St. Charles, she taught fifth through eighth graders. She was teaching math and language arts when she earned a master’s degree from Salem State College in reading. Her children were in high school.
“How I did it, is beyond me,” she said.
After 10 years as a teacher, she moved to principal.
“In a classroom, you focus on just your students,” Masotta said. "As a principal, I get to know all the students. You’re responsible for the whole picture of the whole school”—students, their families and the teaching staff.
“I do miss the joy, in the classroom, of seeing students’ accomplishments,” she said.
Students have changed, the veteran teacher and principal observed. Many of them attend preschool and kindergarten now, she said, and can read at a younger age.
"(Students today are) bombarded with technology: games, movies, songs and music. (That) changes their ability to focus,” Masotta said. “Teachers need to find a variety of ways to address (students’) needs.”
Teaching has changed, with the recognition that students have different learning styles, including by seeing, hearing and doing.
“We need to find out how they learn,” Masotta said, “and meet their needs.”
"Technology is a great way to vary your instruction and reach out to students’ different styles of learning,” according to Masotta. The school has incorporated technology into many classrooms with its interactive Mimio system.
"But the key component (to teaching) is still to have a well-prepared, dedicated teacher in the classroom. You still need people interaction,” she said.
Masotta said research has found that children who just text are losing key interpersonal skills.
Technology has also changed her job. You’re always connected to the school, she said. In the office, all kinds of formerly paper records, like grade books, are now on line.
“You just keep learning," she said.
Parents have changed, too, Masotta said. They’re “busier and may be a little more stressed,” especially due to today's financial picture. “More people work full time. Balancing careers, children and financial responsibilities is very hard.”
Masotta stays “fresh” in her job by continuing, she said, to take courses. She did coursework, she said, to prepare for the school’s accreditation, in 2006, by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. She’s working on a five-year report, she said; it’s due Saturday. She has also served as an accreditation evaluator at other schools. That experience "helps you stay current,” she said, and see what other schools are doing.
Besides being principal of St. Charles School, Masotta shares another bond with St. Charles parish. She said she was baptized at St. Charles Church. Her husband, John, has been a parishioner there since he was born. He works in the computer industry, for RSA, the security division of EMC, in Bedford. Both Woburn natives, they've been married for 41 years.
The Masottas' daughter, Michelle Harden, a CPA and Michelle’s husband, Brad, who works for State Street Bank, have three children: Jennifer, 9, Michael, 7 and Amy 5; their daughter, Sharon Basteri and Sharon’s husband, Michael, who are both state troopers, have three children: Lauren, 7 and twins Michael and Matthew, 5. The Masottas' son, John, who works in marketing for the Campbell Soup Co., and his wife, Michele, who works at Vanguard investing, have a daughter, Abigail, 2 ½.
Michelle, Sharon and John attended the Shamrock Elementary School.
The teacher and principal has brought some of what she learned at school home, like the value of reading to children. She read to her children “pretty much every night, after their baths.” Even now she remembers their newly-bathed scent.
There’s still a touch of the teacher in Masotta. If things “go astray” at home, she said her husband will tell her, “Now don’t be giving me your ‘teacher look.’”