North Dade language magnet principal ponders retirement after nearly three decades

After nearly three decades on the job, Maria Castaigne will be stepping down at the end of the academic year as one of Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ most distinguished educators, leaving behind a legacy of academic achievement and a nurturing environment, officials and colleagues said.

Castaigne first became principal of the North Dade Center for Modern Languages in 1991.

The magnet has been a consistently high-performing school since she started, receiving an A each year since the grading system was introduced in 1998.

She said that her school was one of six elementary schools to be an A school that first year, and she is proud of maintaining that standard.

Prior to becoming principal, Castaigne taught German, French, Spanish, as well as English as a second language for 12 years. This made her one of the few principals qualified to teach those subjects at any level.

She said she believes the challenge for any new principal is adapting to their staff and finding the best way to work in unison.

“When you’re coming in, a school may not be ready for your specific leadership style,” she said. “I was fortunate to have some very professional staff already there to help when I began.”

Castaigne said it’s important to value her staff. In her eyes, a principal working in sync with the staff leads to the school performing its best.

“The principal needs to care for all of them, but the most important is the students and the faculty above all else,” she said.

Fernando Garcia, the school’s head of maintenance, agreed and said the school is a great place to work.

“She created an atmosphere that allowed us to communicate so easily,” he said. “We all work together, and it feels like a family at times. My own daughter started working here because of that.”

His daughter, Vanessa Garcia, recently started as a teacher’s assistant at the school.

“I started out this year and have loved working here,” she said.

Castaigne said her biggest contribution was maintaining high standards through the years.

The students of her school, a diverse body, represent many different backgrounds from every economic status.

“I would say for the north part of Miami [Dade], we’re among the top at the state and national [level] which can be a beacon for the community,” she said.

Castaigne believes communities are proud to see the results of what education can offer when a school and its students succeed.

Principals put in a lot of work, as they essentially work 24 hours, she said. If anything goes wrong, the principal is responsible.

While the amount of work is high, Castaigne believes it’s all worth the effort to be a part in providing a better education for bright, young minds.

She said she is proud of how far Miami-Dade County Public Schools have come since she started.

Castaigne doesn’t plan to fully retire. She will be stepping back as principal, but plans to find time to do volunteer work or stay involved in education in some form.

“I think people that retire completely lack purpose in life,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Castaigne’s work as an assistant principal. It also incorrectly stated as a fact that she was retiring.

Matthew Garcia is a journalism student with a strong passion for social issues, sports and politics. Garcia hopes to bring attention to important national and local issues.