Palatine principal among finalists for Golden Apple leadership award
Creating an inclusive school climate begins with giving students a voice in decision-making, says Martin DaCosta, principal of Winston Campus Junior High School in Palatine.
DaCosta's students are among the most diverse within Palatine Township Elementary District 15 -- the state's second-largest elementary district -- where DaCosta is the only nonwhite principal. He values the importance of cultural relevance in teaching and creating an environment that is welcoming and inspirational for all students.
"When it comes to leadership, one of the things that I aspire to be every single day is a servant leader," DaCosta said.
That philosophy earned him a place among nine finalists -- including two from Waukegan -- for the 2021 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Leadership.
"It's a privilege and an honor just to be considered," DaCosta said. "This has been a very hard year for everyone. Especially in education, we have had to really adjust, to pivot to do things very differently."
Other suburban finalists are Flor Carter, principal of the Alternative Optional Education Center, and Michael Odiotti, principal at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Preparatory High School, both in Waukegan.
The trio were chosen from among 121 nominations of principals serving students in prekindergarten through 12th grade.
"We want leaders to demonstrate shared decision-making ... "(that) they are building other leaders," said Alan Mather, president of Golden Apple. "We look for cultural competency. We look for civic engagement. How do they help children and teachers get involved in the life of the community? How do they get parents engaged in the school?"
The leadership award comes with a $10,000 cash prize -- $5,000 going to the recipient and $5,000 to the school for a project of the recipient's choosing.
DaCosta's personal journey drives his mission of embracing diversity at Winston, whose population is 68% Hispanic, nearly 19% white, nearly 6% Asian, and 4% Black. He immigrated from Uruguay at age 11, was an English as a Second Language student and later became an ESL teacher, instructional coach and assistant principal.
"It is full circle for me to lead a school where 33% of our students are English learners because that was me," he said.
Award recipients become Fellows of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators and help prepare the next generation of teachers in the Golden Apple Scholars and Accelerators programs. To read more about the finalists, visit www.goldenapple.org/golden-apple-awards-finalists-2021.