Incoming New Fairfield superintendent already a familiar face
NEW FAIRFIELD — Incoming Superintendent Patricia Cosentino will not officially start for another few weeks, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been busy in the district.
Since she was hired by the Board of Education in February, Cosentino has spent her time touring New Fairfield’s schools, being debriefed by administrators, meeting with staff and visiting student activities or sporting events, all while balancing her current position as Region 12 superintendent.
Cosentino will take over for Superintendent Alicia Roy, who will leave when her contract expires at the end of June.
“I’ve just been trying my best to get out there and meet people,” Cosentino said. “July is coming up soon. As any superintendent or educator changing jobs from one district to another, you don’t want to overstep, but you want to engage as much as you can.”
The next few weeks, Cosentino said she will continue meeting with staff, attending student activities and has had a few parents and teachers take her up on an offer to make “home visits,” or informal get-to-know-you sessions at their houses.
All these meetings are part of what Cosentino said is one of her strengths — building relationships.
One of her early goals will be a communication, marketing and public relations plan, she said, partly because it seems like an area where New Fairfield can grow.
Roy and the Board of Education, which had a turnover of the majority of its members this past Election Day, had faced mounting criticism over the last few years, including claims that there was a lack of communication both within the district and with the public.
A survey of the district during the superintendent search showed that good communication skills was one of the top five characteristics residents wanted in a new superintendent, Board of Education Chair Peggy Katkocin said.
“Between the needs of the communication and my strengths, I feel like we are a good match,” Cosentino said. “As someone who has also followed the news in New Fairfield, I think we have to change the perception and move from negative stories to positive stories.”
Cosentino said her plan will include increasing ways the district already communicates, such as with newsletters or on social media. She also hopes, along with town officials, to meet with realtors in the area and publicize New Fairfield’s schools.
“(We need) to let people know about all the wonderful things that are going on in the school system,” she said. “I think that’s really important.”
Katkocin said she believes the district has already made strides this year in its communication, but that Cosentino will continue to move it forward. Communication skills was also a priority for many board members when hiring a superintendent, she said.
“That was one of the things that was a deciding factor,” she said. “We looked at this person and said, ‘How will they interface with the public and help us communicate better with the public.’ So, we definitely saw that as one of her strong-suits.”
But, Cosentino added, she plans to listen to staff and administrators before making any changes. She also said areas of curriculum and school safety will be a focus during her first few months.
“I want to hear what people think about where they think we need to go,” she said. “When I start a new position, I don’t like to make changes or assumptions until I really wrap my hands around things.”
Cosentino said New Fairfield also became her top choice when applying for a new superintendent role because she was familiar with the area, it is close to her home in Bethel and many residents, like her, are originally from New York.
She had announced in December that she would leave her position in Region 12 at the end of the school year.
Cosentino said she felt it was time to move on from Region 12, where she had been for six years. She pointed to the district’s upcoming agriscience academy, which she spearheaded, as one of the accomplishments she was particularly proud of.
The agSTEM school — which will focus on agriculture, science, technology, engineering and math — did face resistance and criticism in the region’s three towns, Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington. Some residents are still asking officials for a new referendum on the program, set to open in the 2019-20 school year, over concerns that it will be too costly and not as successful as promoted.
Cosentino added that having three towns in one school district, that often butt heads, was part of the reason she decided to step away. In her job search, she looked for districts made up of just one town.
“When you have one town, at least you know that everyone that comes to the table is there for that one town,” she said. “(In a regional district), even though they’re there for the school system, they’re also there for their individual towns — and it’s not just Region 12, it’s throughout the state.”
Before starting in Region 12 in 2012, Cosentino served as principal of Bethel High School for six years. She previously taught fifth and sixth grade in New York.
July 2 will be her first official day in New Fairfield.
“I am overwhelmed at how excited people are to have me come to New Fairfield,” Cosentino said. “That’s been wonderful. You can tell the staff works very, very hard and the kids are happy. I’m so grateful.”