New Britain Superintendent of Schools Kelt Cooper has hit the ground running since starting his new position on July 1. Among his first moves is ending a bilingual program in a cost-cutting move.
Cooper, according to a Hartford Courant article, told the New Britain Board of Education, “We’ve spread ourselves so thin that we’re not getting any bang for the buck. It’s very apparent that this is not working.”
“This” would be the education of New Britain’s students. New Britain is a city that is more than one-third Latino, according to recent U.S. Census figures.
Indexes of student performance simply don’t justify that arrangement, Cooper told the Courant. City schools have notoriously low reading scores at the third-grade level, and Cooper said some results of recent tests aren’t encouraging.
Cooper faces strong challenges, according to The Herald of New Britain, including the possible state takeover of under-performing schools in his district. “I am against them taking away our autonomy. I can understand the state doing that if we had a (school) board not doing its job or financial mismanagement. But we don’t have any of that,” he noted in the article.
The most radical step Cooper might be taken – and the one most likely well received by parents – is the elimination of staff development days. Currently, every Thursday, students are dismissed early so staff can get additional training. Cooper said it doesn’t make sense to take away instructional time.
In a Courant interview, he said the fundamental route to better student performance is more classroom time spent with teachers. Field trips, staff development sessions or other activities that reduce classroom time must create a substantial benefit to be justifiable. “There is not enough time. Every moment is precious,” Cooper said.
Initial reaction to Cooper from New Britain’s Latino community is good. He addressed the New Britain Latino Coalition at the Puerto Rican Society of New Britain back in May. Cooper won respect for being bilingual and his knowledge of Hispanic culture from his tenure as superintendent at three different Texas school districts.
“He knows the Latino culture and that is a good starting-off point,” said Francisco Cuin, chairman of the New Britain Latino Coalition, said in a New Britain Herald article. “He wants to work with us and that’s what we want to hear. We don’t want to be tolerated. We want to be accepted. We will demand respect.”
Photo (c) New Britain Public Schools