New Britain’s Story of School Success Gaining Nationwide Notice
By Robin Lamott Sparks, Executive Director, Coalition for New Britain’s Youth and Joeline Wruck, Director of Community Initiatives, Community Foundation of Greater New Britain
April 13, 2016 – Sitting in a conference room last week in Washington, D.C., at the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s Funder-to-Funder “Huddle,” fresh off an intense, 90-minute discussion about ways to effectively address chronic absenteeism and its impact on our children’s performance in school, the moderator went around the room, asking the myriad community leaders from across the country in attendance what they had learned.
One distinguished gentleman stated, without hesitation, “I learned that we need to be more like New Britain, Connecticut!”
Indeed, these are somewhat heady times for the New Britain community, the Coalition for New Britain’s Youth and the more than 50 programs and community-based
organizations that are part of it, all working toward a better future for our children. The Coalition was in attendance representing New Britain as the city was recognized by the Campaign as one of only 38 Pacesetter Award Communities nationwide. Meanwhile, as a major funder of the Coalition’s efforts, the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain was on hand to gain insight that can be applied back home to further our collective impact.
The award – New Britain’s third Pacesetter Award in the last four years – salutes communities that are making great strides in addressing challenges that can undermine early literacy, including school readiness, school attendance, summer learning and overall success. New Britain was not only one of 38 Pacesetter communities, it was also one of only seven – yes, seven – communities nationwide to be recognized for its remarkable success in all four key areas.
Here are just a few “nuggets of success” that New Britain can be proud of:
• In 2003, only 38 percent of New Britain children entered kindergarten ready to learn. As of last year, that number had risen to more than 80 percent.
• Thanks to the Consolidated School District of New Britain’s Chronic Absenteeism initiative, regular school attendance has improved by more than 30 percent in kindergarten, first and second grades over the last several years.
• The percentage of New Britain second and third-grade students reading at or above grade level continues to trend upward.
While we were the ones physically in the nation’s Capital last week on the community’s behalf, the truth is that every single New Britain parent, educator, administrator, funder, community-minded citizen and non-profit organization that is part of the Coalition’s yeoman effort was there in spirit. And every single one is to be congratulated for what has become, thanks to your dedication, hard work and financial support, a New Britain success story of major national significance.
Yes, people nationwide are talking about New Britain – and in a very good way.
The Pacesetter award is only one of a variety of recent, noteworthy feathers in New Britain’s cap. The reality is this: Our community has almost assuredly never received the kind of national notice in the areas of school readiness and education now coming its way.
In addition to receiving the Pacesetter award last week, the Coalition:
• Was invited to make two presentations at the gathering, one on our chronic absenteeism success story and another on our community’s progressive use of data to drive decision making. Throughout the conference, we met people wanting to learn more about our strategies, and funders seeking to replicate our work.
• Has been invited to speak at a major community impact leadership conference in Baltimore, and join an exclusive group of collective impact organizations at a conference in Seattle, both later this year.
• Has been instrumental in New Britain being named a finalist for the National Summer Learning Association’s Excellence Award (thanks to our outstanding Summer Enrichment Experience, or SEE, program). Also, we are among the finalists for the National Civic League’s All-America City Award, which recognizes communities that have taken innovative action to engage residents in ensuring that its children are healthy and supported to succeed in school and life.
The key to our success is the fact that New Britain, as a community, has embraced an understanding that the challenges facing our children and families are not just school system challenges, but community-wide challenges that require teamwork and collaboration.
We have learned that parent engagement is critical and that such engagement is a value to be embraced and nurtured. We have learned that relationship building and trust are the bedrocks through which to engage families. We have learned that preparing our children for success in school and in life requires a long-term investment with no easy, overnight fixes.
And we have learned that we all must be involved and invested if we are to succeed.
These are exciting times for those in New Britain invested in our children’s success. Both the Coalition for New Britain’s Youth and the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, on behalf of all Coalition funders, are proud of our collective accomplishments. But as intoxicating as the glow of success can be, we also know that so much more work lies ahead and that the time for self-congratulation is over. It is time to get back to work.
Won’t you join us?
For more information about the Coalition for New Britain’s Youth or to join the Coalition, visit www.coalition4nbyouth.org or e-mail email@example.com. For information about the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, visit www.cfgnb.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.