When Adolfo Costa became the principal of Coral Gables Senior High School five years ago, the graduation rate was poor, opportunities for students were limited and the school was 12 points away from becoming a D school.
Fast forward five years. Under the direction of Costa, Coral Gables Senior High School has been an “A” school for the last three years, the graduation rate is 83.5 percent and 811 students are enrolled in dual enrollment, taking classes at both the high school and Miami Dade College and Florida International University.
“There has been a whole academic cultural turnaround,” he said. “Everything across the board is thriving and we’re offering every student opportunities not only here and now, but also for the future.”
Last week, Costa received the 2013 Leonard Miller Principal Leadership Award from the Council for Educational Change, a statewide nonprofit focusing on leadership that boosts students’ achievement. Miller founded the council.
The $10,000 personal award is given to a principal in Florida who exhibits leadership, which Miller, the former chair of the South Florida Annenberg Challenge and the former head of Lennar Homes, believed was fundamental to school improvement. Miller died in 2002. Costa bested two other principals: Kyle Dresback of Allen D. Nease High School from St. Johns County and Robert McCue of South Lake High School from Lake County. They each received $5,000.
“It’s a very special award to receive, not only for me, but for the work of the students here at Coral Gables Senior High,” said Costa, 42, a graduate of Coral Park Senior High. “The school has a whole different vibe now.”
Costa, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from FIU and master’s degrees from FIU and Nova Southeastern University, had been an English teacher at Miami Edison and West Miami middle schools before becoming an assistant principal at Howard A. Doolin Middle School and Miami Southridge Senior High. He was a principal at Allapattah Middle School before being named principal at Gables for the 2009-2010 school year.
Since being named principal at Gables, the diploma rate for the International Baccalaureate program has gone from 55 percent to 77 percent. The school also created a magnet program called the International Business and Finance Academy and opened a credit union run by the students.
“I have this saying that Coral Gables Senior High is like Baskin-Robbins,” he said. “We have a flavor for every type of student, high and low performing. You can strive for what you want here.”