In Milford’s eight public elementary schools, the secretary — often the first person children and parents talk to when they contact their school — has always been a woman.
About two weeks ago, the Milford school district hired a man to be secretary at Live Oaks Elementary School, and school officials believe he is the first man to serve in this role.
Armando Pereira is in fact now the only man out of 52 secretaries employed in various posts throughout the school district.
Pereira, 62, a veteran, former mail carrier and most recently the greeter at Live Oaks School, said he’s thrilled to have gotten the job. He admits, however, to a little razzing from friends, who say they plan to send him flowers on secretary’s day.
“Yes, I am the first guy, but it doesn’t say women only apply,” Pereira said with a smile.
As a greeter for the past five years, Pereira has worked with the students, teachers and other staff. He knows the parents, and he knows how the school works.
Still he wasn’t totally confident when he applied for the job, for a few reasons, including the fact that he’s a man. Also, some of his computer skills were a little lacking when he applied for the position to replace retiring secretary Kathy Clark. But he passed a test demonstrating that he could handle creating a roster, generating a letter to parents and other tasks, and he’s confident he will get stronger in those areas.
“It’s not just the administrative things,” he said. “It’s also daily dealing with the kids, the parents, and the staff. It’s a matter of talking to people, empathizing with people, because whatever problem they have it’s the most important problem there is, and I understand that.”
It’s that kind of attitude that convinced Principal Rosemarie Marzinotto that Pereira was the right person for the job.
Candidates were all interviewed based on their skills and personality, and the interview didn’t vary based on the sex of the applicant. But in the end, having chosen a man for the job, Marzinotto said it sends a strong message to students — that they can do whatever they want despite job stereotypes.
“This is breaking down barriers,” she said. “Why not a man?”
The Live Oaks community adores Pereira, and the principal said he has the right personality to be the first point of contact for parents and others. She said he has a calming, reassuring manner when he speaks, and he exudes a warm and welcoming vibe she said Live Oaks is all about.
Over the past five years as a greeter, Pereira could often be spotted stooping down to talk to his young charges on their level. He even performed in a school talent show with one of the students — the student happened to be his grandson, who sang Blackbird by the Beatles while Pereira accompanied him on bass.
When Pereira posted news about his new job on Facebook, he got more than 60 comments, many from the school community, all congratulatory and many using the word “awesome.”
Pereira is a veteran: He served in the Army from 1974 to 1977, just after graduating Milford High School. Later he was a mail carrier, retiring after 34 years.
He’s also a runner, mostly doing 5Ks but an occasional half marathon. And he plays bass in a local band, Green Room.
Periera technically isn’t the first male secretary in the school district. Schools spokeswoman Kathy Bonetti said she believes that would have been the late high school football and baseball coach Joseph Harrington, who handled attendance at Jonathan Law High School and was in the secretary’s union.
Wendy Kopazna, director of human resources for the school district, said most candidates for school secretarial jobs here are women. Out of 100 applicants, two might be from a man.
“Whether the applicant is a male or female, the most important thing is that they have the proper skill set and the personality to do the job,” Kopazna said.
Pereira will start his new job when school staff returns mid-August.
And what about other department personnel stats?
Out of 56 school custodians, one is a woman.
On the city side, the Milford Fire Department has two female firefighters out of more than 100 firefighters and other fire officials.
Out of 17 city sanitation workers, only one is a woman, though there have been a couple of women in that job over the years.
Out of 33 secretaries working for the city, as opposed to the schools, three are men.
Out of 15 city custodians, five are women.
Out of about 116 sworn police officers, 17 are women.
Pereira’s recent hiring is further proof that stereotypes are breaking, or are at least made to be broken.