School superintendent charts path for continued progress

After six months as Milford school superintendent, Dr. Anna Cutaia has a clearer idea of what the community views as school strengths and weaknesses. She discussed her findings at a Feb. 11 Board of Education meeting, and talked about mapping out a plan to move Milford schools to the next level.
Shortly after being hired as school superintendent in August, Cutaia said she would spend time in a listening and learning phase. She listened to students, parents, teachers, civic groups, local officials and others share their views of the school system.
She said she learned that the community sees strengths in the district’s college and career pathways, Advanced Placement offerings, math and other initiatives.
“Our math work is really paying off dividends,” Cutaia said. “The math work that we start in elementary and continue through the upper grades, while there is room for improvement, is really making an impact on the way our students think mathematically.”
There are opportunities to improve, she said, noting gaps in the continuous development of curriculum. She said there will be a program review, focusing on literacy and math, leading to a systemic approach to curriculum writing for pre-kindergarten to grade 12.
Cutaia also said administrators will take a look at the amount of testing done.
“Our students have a very strong opinion of how often they are tested, and they are telling us too much testing,” Cutaia said. “They are telling us that they feel like they are testing more than they should and they don’t understand what we are doing with the results to help them with learning.”
She also said school schedules need review, noting that the elementary and middle school schedules don’t offer students enough time to explore. “We want students to spend more time inquiring and discovering,” she said, adding that this spring administrators will begin reviewing elementary and middle school class schedules.
Some of the changes Cutaia talked about are long term and have not started yet, and others are under way. For example, working with the College Board to create more rigorous opportunities in the middle school is “already happening,” she said, adding that students and parents have been asking for this.
She also talked about consistency.
“Our community doesn't believe there is consistency of best practice across all of our schools,” Cutaia said. “So while we may have pockets of excellence, in ‘X’ at ‘A’ school, that may not be replicated at another school.”
But the superintendent said she is confident reviewing curriculum, instruction and assessments will lead to consistency.
Cutaia said she found a lot of community pride in the Milford school system.
“There is not a single person I’ve talked to who doesn't love our schools,” Cutaia said. “Milford is a school community. There’s this feeling in Milford that it’s big but it’s small. And people feel like they are part of a school even if they don’t have kids in the school anymore.”
But she thinks the community needs to be better informed about school district goals, and that they want to know what the next generation of education will look like in Milford.
And that, she said, “is a great opportunity for rolling out an improvement plan.” She intends to see a multiyear plan of improvement created, one that will help school officials understand and visualize the success they are striving for.
School Board Chairman Susan Glennon said when the board began its search for a new superintendent to replace Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser, who retired, board members learned that the community was ready to see Milford Public Schools move to the next level.
“After Dr. Feser’s stabilizing leadership, I think we are prepared to do just that,” Glennon said. “Dr. Cutaia has worked diligently in her first six months on the job, connecting with our many stakeholders and reviewing all aspects of the district. Continuous improvement and growth are always the goal. We hope to build on the initiatives and practices that are working well and find new ways to progress.
“A fresh set of eyes and new ideas are bound to bring change,” Glennon added. “We have already seen some, such as the 1 to 1 Chromebook initiative, and I expect more will come. The board is excited for the future of Milford Public Schools. We are ready to embrace the potential and the opportunities that lie ahead.”