New principal at St. Mary School, Canandaigua, brings passion for literacy, faith
CANANDAIGUA — Lisa Milano has only been principal at St. Mary School for a few weeks, but already the job feels like a perfect fit.
“God has prepared me to do this work, and I’m just happy to be here to do it,” Milano told the Courier on Aug. 8.
Just one week earlier she had replaced Ann Marie Deutsch, who retired after 18 years at the helm of the Canandaigua school.
“I’ve done many things in my career and I’ve worn a lot of hats, and I feel like all of those experiences that I’ve had to this point have led me to be here at St. Mary’s,” Milano said.
St. Mary’s new principal grew up in the small town of New York Mills, west of Utica. She attended Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade, and then continued her Catholic education at Notre Dame High School in Utica. During her summer breaks from Notre Dame, Milano worked at a neighborhood center’s child-care facility. She also worked as a playground director, supervising children as they played.
“Every job that I’ve ever had, I worked with kids. I’ve always loved working with kids. It’s just kind of been my calling, I guess,” Milano mused.
After graduating from Notre Dame, Milano enrolled in Syracuse University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She then became at teacher at St. Patrick School in Owego. Although her tenure there was brief, it greatly influenced the course of her career.
“In the Catholic schools at that time, we didn’t have support teachers, intervention teachers, so I decided to go to Binghamton University and take a class in reading education, because I had to provide reading intervention to these little kids,” Milano said.
During the course of that class, Milano realized helping children learn to read was her passion, so she earned her master’s degree in literacy from Binghamton.
“I just fell in love with the whole idea of unlocking that reading magic for kids. Because I love to read so much, it’s just such a passion for me to teach kids to read and see them develop that same love for reading,” Milano said.
This is challenging because there are so many different philosophies, strategies and programs designed to help children learn to read, and each child is different, she said.
“The truth of the matter is no one (program) works for every child, and so it’s been my passion and my incredible challenge as a reading teacher to find out exactly which strategy works with each child,” Milano said. “I love that challenge, and I love when you can finally unlock that magic for a child and they start to read, and they start to love to read.”
Milano, who has been an educator for more than 30 years, has taught numerous children to read. She taught in the Union-Endicott Central School District and worked for Broome-Tioga BOCES, where she taught other teachers how to help children learn to read. She has taught first, second and third grades and, after earning her certificate in school administration from SUNY Cortland, she was a principal in the Windsor Central School District, which is east of Binghamton.
She left the Southern Tier several years ago and moved to Webster to be closer to her daughter, Nicole. In 2017 she became the coordinator of academic intervention services at St. Lawrence School in Greece, where she worked until she took on the principal position at St. Mary.
“I really decided that I wanted to go back to Catholic education because I felt like I was at a point in my faith life where I wanted to give back, and I wanted to be teaching in a faith-filled environment,” Milano explained.
In her role at St. Lawrence, Milano worked one on one with students who needed extra help with reading, which was something she’d missed during her years as a principal and in professional development.
“I had forgotten how much I loved it. I really will always be grateful for that experience at St. Lawrence for helping me fall back in love with teaching,” she said.
Milano plans to find ways to share her love of reading and literacy with her new students at St. Mary. Relatively early in the school year, for instance, she plans to visit each classroom, read a book out loud and tell the students a little bit about her favorite book or her favorite author.
“In the past I have done reading challenges where students have been challenged to read a certain amount of books and then I’ve done some crazy stunt like cartwheels down the hall,” she said. “At St. Lawrence I challenged the students to buy 500 books at the Scholastic Book Fair, and then I dressed up as a dinosaur and went into their classrooms and sang songs on Valentine’s Day.”
Milano also is looking forward to incorporating Scripture into as much as she can at St. Mary.
“I want our students to know who Christ was, how Christ lived, and I want them to understand that he was the model for us, and that’s how we should strive to live our lives. People should see Christ in us,” she said.