New Britain Superintendent Nancy Sarra retiring at end of school year

Published on Monday, 10 January 2022 19:01


Nancy Sarra, superintendent of New Britain Schools since 2017, will leave her post at the end of the school year, she announced Monday night.

In a statement she presented on Zoom at the Board of Education’s regular meeting, Sarra said she had accomplished what she set out to do, and was ready to move on.

“It has been a very productive six years, and I am proud of the accomplishments we’ve made toward our collective vision of pursuing excellence for all New Britain students,” she said.

There is no natural succession in place, with Assistant Superintendent Michael Foran also announcing his plan to retire at the end of August. The board is expected to begin a search process in short order; prior to Sarra, several administrations were bridged with interim appointments.

Her retirement ends a 26-year career with the district that began in an elementary school classroom and as a director of teaching before leading the nearly 10,000-student district.

In a separate exclusive interview with The Herald, Sarra, 59, was particularly proud of putting in place an infrastructure for processes, procedures and policies to put policies into action and creating a comprehensive curriculum that is “culturally responsive and student-centered.”

She also noted scrutinizing the budget – particularly transportation costs and bidding out bus service – saved the district millions, allowing the hiring of additional staff.

“We get $13,500 per pupil, with New Britain and Danbury the lowest in the state,” she said. “Students need more.”

She pointed to the design and implementation of a pre-K through Grade 12 curriculum “that meets the needs of the 21 Century students” in her presentation, along with a district-wide restructuring that allows core teachers to meet weekly to improve their teaching skills through “New Britain University time.”

She emphasized the equity that is at the center of her major successes.

“Every student has access to everything – we have a strong continuum of services for everyone – programming curriculum and data,” Sarra said.

She believes this access has contributed to a dramatic reduction in expulsions (almost none now) and suspensions.

Sarra also noted that now all students receive enrichment via week STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) labs; they have the opportunity to get focused education in the high school’s Manufacturing, Engineering & Technology Academy, along with the Finance Academy, Health Academy and Public Service Academy.

She credited the origins of the STEAM access to former Superintendent Doris Kurtz. “Hands-and-minds-on learning, with extra support where needed.”

She also saw a celebration of bilingualism and multiculturalism. “A second language is a gift, a spotlight,” she said.

Her biggest challenges while superintendent?

“Building a system from scratch” for remote learning during the pandemic, including 1,500 families with no connectivity, while at the same time pushing out a new curriculum.

“There’s no substitute for in-person,” she said. “There was definitely a regression” that will take years to get back to normal.

Her team was unable to lift test scores that have hovered near the bottom of Connecticut schools over most of the last 20 years. This put the local schools in the state Commissioner’s Network, which provides extra help for failing schools.

“We have other metrics to define students, not just tests,” she said, noting she believes she is leaving behind a “much healthier” school system, a result of “leading with integrity always.” “Don’t bend for politics, ever.”

She hopes the next leader keeps supporting teachers in the classrooms, and the voice of the 21st-century students continues to be heard. And that students take the lead in technology.

“Don’t let loud voices detract the mission,” she said.

This all takes money, she said, so a big part of the job will be advocating to keep the funding that came with the pandemic – about $70 million over the past three years.

She’s leaving her options open, but plans to stay in the state with her husband, Michael Halloran, and the rest of her family.

“I still want to contribute,” she said.

Posted in New Britain Herald, , New Britain on Monday, 10 January 2022 19:01. Updated: Monday, 10 January 2022 19:04.