New school superintendent getting to know the city

Dr. Anna Cutaia has spent a portion of her first two months as school superintendent getting to know Milford — the people who live here and the students who attend school here.

Her immersion in the community can be seen on her Twitter page, which contains snapshots of meetings with students and staff.

On Sept. 26, Dr. Cutaia tweeted from the United Way campaign kickoff a picture of herself and Foran High School student Trevanna Kandrach: “So proud to hear Trevanna Kandrach speak with conviction about her support of United Way as she co-chairs this year’s campaign,” the superintendent tweeted.

She has tweeted about her visits to high school cooking classes and the automotive class, and West Shore Middle School’s birthday salute to their principal, Paul Cavanna.

On Sept. 24, she tweeted a photo of Pumpkin Delight students with the caption, “teaching Principal and Superintendent the Floss,” which Dr. Cutaia explained is a new dance.

This mode of communication allows her to reach all the stakeholders, and to share the day to day life of Milford’s schools. For example, when she visited East Shore Middle School she was thrilled with what she saw. “There are so many great things happening here,” she said. “The problem is nobody knows about it. I think an advantage to Twitter is you get the word out, the good word out.”

It’s all part of her efforts to really know the community and the schools.

Milford’s new school superintendent said it’s too early to talk about making changes to the public school system, but rather a time to get to know Milford. She wants to understand this city’s parents, teachers and students before strategizing any new initiatives.

She calls this period her “listen and learn tour,” a time for her to meet the people involved in Milford’s public education system and hear what’s on their minds.

“My goal right now is to really determine what our community wants,” she said.

She wants to find out what people here are proud of.

She wants to find out where they think the Milford school system can grow.

She wants to know what people think is important for her to know about their department or organization.

So far, she said she’s learned that people are proud Milford is a community that cares about its schools. Milford is a large community, with a population of about 52,000 people, but it’s a tight community, she said.

“The first six months are critical,” Cutaia said, noting that in the coming months she plans to hold listen and learn sessions for parents and community members to talk to her about their views on the education system.

That aside, she has several general goals in mind.

“As an educational leader, I would be interested in improving opportunities for our students to pursue career options at an earlier age, to explore careers,” Cutaia said, adding that students shouldn’t have to wait until high school to start thinking about what they want to do with their lives.

“There are different jobs available today than there ever were before,” Cutaia said.

She added, “I’m hoping to enrich activities in sciences, mathematics; and the arts are really, really critical to me because I think Milford students already excel in what Milford does so well, arts and music.”

She wants to support teachers to grow, to encourage them to take risks and “do out-of-the-box work” for students.

Budget work is already getting underway for the 2019-20 school year, and Cutaia said she plans to work with her Board of Education and political leaders during the process. Budgeting, she said, is a balance and requires being sensitive to the community and advocating for students. “It has to be done very carefully, as in any town,” she said.

There is another new face at the helm of the public school administration. Cutaia started this summer, and Dr. Amy Fedigan was tapped to be the new assistant school superintendent this summer, replacing Jeffrey Burt, who left to take a job in a different district.

Cutaia said she and Fedigan work well together as a team. Fedigan, she said, is very talented and brings historical perspective to the table because she was born in Milford, educated in Milford, taught in Milford before being named a school principal and now assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, and her children go to school in Milfod.

If there were any surprises stepping into her new role, Cutaia said it is that there are so many groups, like the Milford Education Foundation and the Milford Prevention Council, that are eager to help the public education system.

“There are many more than I thought there were,” Cutaia said.

Cutaia came to Milford with 27 years of professional educational experience, most recently serving as the superintendent of schools for Regional District 14 for the past four years, encompassing the communities of Bethlehem and Woodbury. Before that she served for six years as the director of elementary education in the Fairfield Public School District.

Cutaia received her bachelor of arts degree from Mount St. Mary College in 1991, followed by a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1997. While working as an educator for several years, Cutaia continued her post-graduate studies and received her sixth-year certificate in the executive leadership program (2007), followed by a doctorate in education (2013), both from the University of Connecticut.

School officials here said Cutaia is recognized as a prolific researcher, writer, and presenter in the educational arena.