NAUGATUCK — Growing up in a family of educators, Kate (Kuhla) Singley was raised with the belief in public schools and to value public education.
She always had that feeling of wanting to help others, but wasn’t sure what avenue she would take in life to satisfy that sense. It wasn’t until she was working as a paraeducator at Bethlehem Elementary School — the same school her mother, Elizabeth Fox, taught at — that she realized teaching would be that avenue.
Singley, a 40-year-old humanities teacher at Hillside Intermediate School and Naugatuck’s 2019-20 teacher of the year, recalled that moment as she sat in her borough home on a recent morning.
She spoke of a student who was sitting alone in a hallway struggling with his work. She sat with him and offered to help, soon realizing the young student couldn’t multiply because he couldn’t add. So she helped him with adding.
“How easy it is just to sit and take the time to understand why a kid doesn’t understand something. You’ve got to ask them questions,” Singley said. “It’s not because they’re naughty or they don’t want to work. Maybe sometimes they just need some help.”
“That felt good to help him feel successful,” she continued. “Not because what I did for him, he smiled and felt good about it.”
Singley said her friend, Dawn Hochsprung, the former principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School who was killed in the December 2012 shooting at the school, took her under her wing and pushed her to become a teacher.
So Singley, who graduated from Nonnewaug High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and counseling from Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, went back to school. In 2008, she earned her teacher’s certificate and a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Bridgeport.
After three years of working at the STARBASE Youth Program, a Department of Defense math and science program for students, at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Singley was hired at Hillside. She has made quite the impression over the past eight years.
“Mrs. Singley is the teacher that every parent wants for their child. Simply put she loves every single student of hers in a real, honest and authentic way,” Hillside Principal Johnna Minicucci Hunt wrote in a Facebook post announcing Singley as teacher of the year. “Mrs. Singley is able to connect with all her students at the deepest level and because of this she is able to push them to exceed even their own expectations. In addition to building lasting relationships, she is a gifted instructor.”
For Singley, who makes those connections with students in the classroom and as the school’s student council adviser, teaching goes beyond academics.
“We teach them the content, but to teach them to want to be better people is the most important thing,” she said. “I think I’m most successful if they feel that they want to help and want to do something and are kind than if they understood a concept, because that will go with them forever.”
Her influence is evident. This year, the student council helped several local organizations and efforts, including raising over $800 for Mission 22, a nonprofit organization that works to end veteran suicide.
“I want them to be inspired to want to change things for the better and want to help, because they can do it at that age,” she said. “So many times they’re underestimated because of their age.”
As for being named teacher of the year, Singley described it as surreal.
“I feel like I’m surrounded by teachers of the year,” she said.
Singley said she sees teachers of year each day working at Hillside and sees the excellence of the teachers at Maple Hill Elementary School in the excitement her two children, who attend the school, have for learning.
“This public school system, I would definitely say it’s one of the best in the state by far. But people just want to look at the rankings of the state test, and that’s what they make they make their determination on,” she said. “But if they peel off that layer, they see so many wonderful things happening in our schools and our teachers loving our kids.”