NEW BRITAIN - More than 100 school administrators, teachers, city officials and community stakeholders met at New Britain High School on Tuesday to talk about moving the district forward.
The discussion, organized by Superintendent Nancy Sarra, was an open, honest dialogue about the district being one of the lowest performing in the state.
The district is an Alliance District, a title given to the state’s 30 lowest performing school districts. NBHS was recently placed into the Commissioner’s Network, a Department of Education program for low-performing districts. Through the network, NBHS will receive additional funds and consulting services from the state, as well as experience “heightened accountability.”
“We’re here to take a hard look at our current reality, what the data really is saying right now,” Sarra said at the beginning of the meeting. “I’ve spent probably the last 40 hours with administrators, with cabinet members, really talking about and looking at the data - not making excuses for where we are, but more importantly what we’re going to do about it.”
Sarra began the working discussion talking about the district’s Next-Generation Accountability Report, which analyzes improvements in school districts based on several different indicators including academic performance, absenteeism, arts and more. According to this year’s report, which reflected data collected in December 2017, New Britain schools are 165 out of 166 school districts.
“This is our hard reality right now,” Sarra said of the data. “We don’t have time to wait … we have a promise to 10,000 students that they are going to walk across that stage ready to compete with everyone else in our nation.”
Following a look at the data, tables discussed what data points surprised them, either good or bad.
One educator said it was concerning that the district’s college and career readiness marks have gone down while the graduation rate has increased, indicating some students may not be ready for post-graduation life.
It’s important to prepare students for what comes after high school - whether that is college or career - one table discussed.
Others pointed to the district’s reduction in chronic absenteeism as positives, as well as the district’s high marks related to physical fitness and the arts.
After private table discussions some tables shared their group’s discussions.
“We are 110 percent committed to our attendance, and we are there,” said Assistant Chief Talent Officer Nicole Sanders, praising the district’s attendance improvements but criticizing lack of growth elsewhere. “Where is our due diligence when it comes to the academics? With that same type of systemic wherewithal to do the same thing when we know a child is not where he or she should be.”
“One of the things that came up right away was the concern about the four-year and the six-year graduation rate,” said Lara Bohlke, a curriculum coordinator in the district. “Those are going up, but our post-secondary is going down … there was a wondering there, ‘why are we graduating more kids and are those kids less equipped to go into post-secondary?’”
The almost-three-hour discussion at NBHS also included a talk about what stakeholders think of when they think of the ideal NBHS graduate. The discussion also brought up “updrafting and downdrafting,” terms that refer to the act of having different expectations for different students.
For example, educators sometimes sort students in different groups based on their perceived potential - like high-performing students in advanced placement classes and lower-performing students in lower-level classes. Educators discussed times when this is positive and intentional and times when it could be subconscious and have a negative effect on a child’s education.
Sarra said that everything the district is doing must be grounded in research, and brainstorming from Tuesday’s meeting will be used as plans start to develop.
Over the next few weeks, teachers and school administrators will continue the dialogue about strategies to improve New Britain schools.
“Our organization is made up of people who care. It’s about saying what we can be, not what we’ve been,” Sarra said.
Leslie Carson, an education consultant with the state Department of Education, sat in on the meeting and said she was happy to hear a dialogue about ways the district is looking to improve.
“I can tell you this: the state board and the commissioner and all of her staff are really watching New Britain because they’re excited about what’s going on here,” Carson said. “Things are going to change here in New Britain, and you’re not going to be one of these Opportunity Districts for much longer.”
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at email@example.com.