New Britain City Journal

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First Day of School Approaching

School officials are preparing for the start of the school year on Tuesday, Sept. 3, finalizing bus routes, hiring nearly 60 new teachers, and ensuring safe walking routes for the neighborhood school initiative.

During a recent Board of Education meeting, school administrators outlined the work they have been doing over the summer to get ready for the arrival of the city’s 10,000 students.

Excitement is building among school officials as trailer loads of new textbooks that were recently purchased from the issuance of a $9.3 million bond started arriving in the city Wednesday. There will be five trucks arriving each containing 110 pallets of new language arts, health, science, social studies, and math textbooks.

“Fresh, new, update-to-date books that are going to be in the hands of every child in the city of New Britain,” Board President Sharon Beloin-Saavedra said of the roughly 20,000 books and support materials. “That’s something to really celebrate.”

Under this year’s budget, 33 new classroom teaching positions were created in an attempt to bring down class sizes.

“I can’t believe that school is getting so close,” Assistant Superintendent Paul Salina said during the board’s meeting on Aug. 12. “The administrators were back to work today and indicated that last night they all had that same pit in their stomach for the first day of school even though school is not going to begin for three weeks. There is a lot of preparation underway.”

Salina said the schools are on track to open and are in orderly conditions. Panic buttons are also being installed in the main offices of each building as an added security feature.

On Thursday, Aug. 29 there will be welcome back breakfast for all elementary and middle school students and parents to become acquainted with their new buildings and teachers. Buses will run that day, giving the school system a “dry run” in addressing any issues that might arise.

The breakfast will take place from 8 to 10 a.m. at the middle school and 9 to 11 a.m. for elementary school students. There will be free breakfast for students and coffee, Danishes, and water for adults. This will be followed by a welcome address and overview of programs by each building principal along with an opportunity for students to enter their classrooms and meet their teachers to get the first day jitters out of the way.

Every child will also be given a free book. Those who don’t attend the welcome breakfast will have the book awaiting them on the first day of school.

“We will have crossing guard monitors at all of their locations so the parents can see where crossing guards normally are,” Salina said. “Letters are going out this week in English, Polish, and Spanish to each individual student by name to remind them of their school location incase there is any question in their mind.”

As part of the neighborhood zone plan, Salina said that the district will have approximately eight less buses. Since buses will not be traveling long distances across the city, less fuel will bring additional savings.

“It will be a shorter route and a less expensive route,” Salina said.

But with the move to new school zones, students will only be picked up or dropped off at a sitter or daycare provider it is within the attendance zone. This means only a mile for some students. Pick-up and drop-offs will continue, however, at several non-profits like the YMCA, YWCA, and the Boys and Girls Club.

A few days before school, officers from the Police Department will be brought to specific areas that have been historically problem areas to ensure extra attention is paid, Salina said.

“Our principals worked so hard this summer making sure that they and their staff were ready to open their buildings,” Sharon Locke, Chief Academic Officer, said. “Our theme for the year is coherence: Making sure that all the things we are doing makes a complete picture about creating effective schools.”

Director of Human Resources Robert Stacy said that there have been a 172 internal teacher transfers with the shift to neighborhood schools.

School officials also heard a report on the items being purchased under the $9.3 million in borrowing. The report led to some bickering among board members, particularly James Sanders who was concerned about adding to the city’s debt load.

Just under half of the money, $3.6, is being spent on new textbooks, which will have an approximate useful life of around seven years. Technology initiatives, such as interactive white boards and projectors, more than 2,000 lightweight computers, a new server, and wireless network upgrades account for around $4 million in the purchasing.

Roughly $300,000 will go towards purchasing library books for every school. The amount allocated for the buildings will be distributed based on need. The high school will likely get around half the amount, while Lincoln Elementary School will get around $30,000.

Other improvements include milling and paving the playgrounds at two schools, a new gym curtain at the high school, and $738,500 worth of capital repairs. These improvements include fire sprinkler upgrades, carpet removal, furniture purchases, roof replacements, and cooling system repairs at the high school.

“I don’t think people have really grasped what the city was willing to do for us in terms of bonding,” Beloin-Saavedra said. “Whether you agree or disagree with how these things are coming to us, the important thing to realize and appreciate is that they are coming to us.”

School board member Erin Stewart, a candidate for mayor, said she had been skeptical in the beginning about bonding money for the purchases. But she said her primary responsibility is to advocate for the children and the needs of the schools.

“We asked for what we needed and they chose to make that decision,” Stewart said of the Council. “I feel good knowing that I voted for this because my job here is to be an advocate for what we need in the school district.”

Some of the items, like technology pieces, might take up to a year before they are installed or in operation.

“There’s not going to be a single classroom in the district, whether regular, special education, ELL, that will not be equipped with 21st-century technology,” Beloin-Saavedra said. “Our kids are finally being treated with respect and dignity that all school children should be treated with by having the appropriate tools at their disposal.”

The school board also adopted a resolution proclaiming September “Attendance Awareness” month which will feature activities aimed at making sure parents understand the importance of having students make it to class. Even those students who show up to class are impacted as teachers must spend time reviewing old lesson plans for those who missed a topic.

School officials say that missing 10 percent of a school year, or even two to three days a month, is a proven predictor of academic trouble—particularly among third grade readers—and dropout rates. The school system, which tracks absentee data among stakeholders to help find appropriate support services, reported that in the 2012-13 school year, the chronic absence rate dropped from 25 to 20 percent. The biggest improvement was among kindergartners, with the rate dropping from 30 to 17.6 percent.