By ARDEN BASTIA Melissa Centracchio is on the road to becoming a principal, and credits Dave Tober with her career success. Centracchio, the current interim principal at Warwick Veterans Middle School, didn't set out to be a school principal, but
Melissa Centracchio is on the road to becoming a principal, and credits Dave Tober with her career success.
Centracchio, the current interim principal at Warwick Veterans Middle School, didn’t set out to be a school principal, but wouldn’t trade her journey for anything else. Centracchio’s plan was to wait for the right time later in her career to become a principal, after her two daughters, both students at Pilgrim High School, were older.
“It’s kind of a funny story,” she said in an interview. “Dave Tober has changed my life.”
Centracchio graduated from the University of Rhode Island where she studied Communication Disorders and American Sign Language. While working at the School for the Deaf, her plan was to teach the deaf. However, this required a certification that Rhode Island didn’t offer, so she chose to get her Master’s degree in Education.
After getting her degree, Centracchio spent 20 years teaching 5th and 6th grade at McGuire Elementary School in North Providence, where she was a teacher in charge. This meant that whenever the principal was absent, Centracchio would sub in as principal for the day. “That turned into a lot of leadership opportunities. I was very involved with the district, and then the administration encouraged me to get my [principal] certification.”
While at McGuire, Centracchio stepped up into many leadership roles, leading fellow teachers in new initiatives and programs. “I started learning all these things and wanted to share those things. I shared them with my staff and my colleagues, but this job gave me the opportunity to just spread the knowledge out.”
From there, Centracchio attended the Principal Residency Network (PRN), a residency program for aspiring school principals. Centracchio stretched the program over two years so she could continue teaching at McGuire.
At the end of her first year in the PRN, she ran into Dave Tober unexpectedly at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Both were shopping for last minute Fathers’ Day gifts, when Tober encouraged her to apply for the position of Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning at Vets. Tober and Centracchio had known each other for years, first as youth hockey parents and then as colleagues, working together on state testing initiatives and other teacher trainings.
At the time of their encounter, Tober was the principal at Vets Middle School.
As Centracchio tells it, “The long story short, I applied, got all my recommendations. And then I went to Hawaii. When I landed, I got an email asking me to come in for an interview on July 3. I was in Hawaii until July 12.” At 6 a.m. Hawaii time, around noon here in Rhode Island, Centracchio had a phone interview with district administrators.
“They all asked me questions, but I had no eye contact, no nodding. But I came back and I ended up getting the job.” Centracchio has spent the past two years as the Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning at Vets. “I feel like I can effect real change in this role, and positively reach more students.”
But then Dave Tober changed her life again. “I keep telling Dave, he changed my life at that time. And he was going to do it again. And now he did it again, when he left.”
At the beginning of the 2020 school year, Tober left his position at Warwick Vets to be the principal at Cole Middle School in East Greenwich. Centracchio was called upon to act as interim principal, filling Tober’s vacant role. She has since submitted her application for the full-time position.
“She didn’t need me to become great. She’s got the tools and the ability to lead and the repertoire to be great,” said Tober in an interview. “Her ability to lead and be an educational leader is inherent. She gives me too much credit.”
“I see it as an opportunity. I feel like I owe it to the school and the staff and the students for consistency,” said Centracchio of being a principal during a pandemic. “I’d be happy to support whoever gets the role, but I also think to have someone new come in might present more challenges.”
The road to becoming a principal has changed Centracchio’s perspective on teaching and the school system.
“You know, I’ve always had a very student centered philosophy, and that’s only been enhanced. When you’re in a classroom with the same people, you tend to do your lessons that you love and you’re good at. But this position has allowed me to step back and really see what’s effective for all students, not just the students that are in front of you.”