Alumni Profile: Michael Cummings ’84

Alumni Profile: Michael Cummings ’84

Michael Cummings

“My career is deeply rewarding,” he reflected. “I have always worked with people who are strongly committed to bettering the lives of kids. It’s tremendously gratifying work.”

We have to find the benefits of these experiences and hold on to them. The basic question of every experience has to be, ‘How I am stronger as a result?’

— Michael Cummings ’84

Be flexible, be compassionate, listen, because you have a lot to learn; never, ever, give up on anyone; and be honest in your thinking and decisions because at the end of the day, all you have is your integrity.

Those are the mantras Michael Cummings ’84 has lived by during his career as an educator.

“My career is deeply rewarding,” he reflected. “I have always worked with people who are strongly committed to bettering the lives of kids. It’s tremendously gratifying work.”

Cummings is superintendent of Connecticut’s Fairfield Public Schools system, overseeing 10,000 students in 17 districts. His work was never more difficult than it became earlier this year as the Covid-19 crisis sent the nation, and its school systems, reeling — forced to close classroom doors and move to distance learning modalities.

“The levels of stress that so many people are experiencing, around the health and well-being of themselves and their loved ones, the economic impacts, and the loss of so much of what is ‘normal’ makes this a tough time to teach and to learn,” he said. His priority was to put the health of students, their families, and staff first. “That takes priority over learning. Then, with distance learning, we asked for patience from everyone as welearned how to do this work well.”

Cummings said he and his staff had three weeks to prepare — “essentially very little time” to “re-launch” an educational system that has not seen substantial change in 150 years. “Our teachers and administrators have risen to the challenge and exceeded expectations. They have put care for the students first.”

Despite the uncertainty of the situation, Cummings looks to the future with hope. “One of our tasks when we get back together will be to celebrate what our community has done and take stock of the changes we want to maintain and determine what can be improved. I believe we all must do this, not just for our professional lives, but also in our private lives. We have to find the benefits of these experiences and hold on to them. The basic question of every experience has to be, ‘How I am stronger as a result?’ ”

While at Fairfield University, Cummings first “fell in love with teaching” because of the educators he came into contact with while a student. “These were people who loved their subjects and cared about the students in front of them — people like Dr. (George) Baehr in history and Dr. (John) Orman in politics. They made the learning personal. They were always there for a conversation or help.”

After graduation, he headed off to the University of Notre Dame to pursue a master’s degree in U.S. history, then pursued additional coursework in high school education at Southern Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut.

Cummings began his career as a social studies teacher at Foran High School in Milford, Conn. He then served as principal of Milford’s Meadowside School, before returning to take that post at Foran. After a brief stint as interim superintendent of Milford schools, he became director of elementary education for Fairfield Public Schools, overseeing instruction and learning at 11 elementary schools, prior to assuming his current role.

One “drawback” of his present position is the lack of daily, direct interaction with students, he said. “Working out of a central office I am not interacting with students as much as when I am in the school building. I miss that a great deal. But, I continue to guide every decision I make based on what is best for students. I think, ‘What would I want for my own kids?’ ”

Cummings shared fond memories of being a student at the University, “I had a small group of close friends on campus. We were very close. I worked at the deli for three years when it was in Gonzaga, and we had a great time. I was in the first group to live in the townhouses and that was a lot of fun as well.”

The core curriculum of studies at Fairfield was very important to Cummings’ development as a thinker and writer. He said, “I cannot say I saw it as an opportunity at 18 years old, but having had philosophy and religious studies courses engaged me in a level of dialogue I would not have gotten from following a strict path in my majors.”

A resident of Milford, Cummings and his wife, Meghan, have six children who take up most of his free time. “It is a very full life. My hobbies basically are my family time, taking the children to games, and working in the yard with them. I am an older dad, so I want to be sure I am part of their lives.” Just as he has been a part of so many families’ lives during his career.

Other Articles in the Summer 2020 Issue

Donor Profile: Baureen Bujno '90

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Alumni Profile: Carly Ragosta ’08

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A Mission Continues

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On The Front Lines

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From A Distance

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Career Goals

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Lifetime Value

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Letter From The President

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