New Britain Superintendent-in-waiting Kelt Cooper will visit New Britain next month to meet with school officials and others, including members of the Latino and African American communities.
Leaders of those groups said a dialogue with Cooper is being planned for next month at last week’s meeting of the Democratic Town Committee. The May visit comes in the aftermath of a favorable report from four Board of Education members after their site visit to Del Rio, Texas where Cooper is the Superintendent of Schools. The new Superintendent’s appointment is set to begin on July 1. Cooper, one of three finalists who met with the public on February 28th, was appointed on a 6 to 4 vote on February 29th, breaking a five to five deadlock at an afternoon meeting of the Board of Education.
News of a community dialogue ahead of Cooper’s official arrival is welcome news after controversy erupted at the end of the search. The imbroglio featured an inflammatory letter to Mayor O’Brien from BOE member and former Republican Town Chair Paul Carver alleging the Mayor’s office tried to interfere with a closed-door BOE meeting. O’Brien had made a request to the BOE to discuss the status of the superintendent search.
Unexpected concern over Cooper’s candidacy arose at the end of the search process when reports surfaced about his 2009 enforcement of a residency law in Del Rio that resulted in the inappropriate expulsion of 180 children — children whose families subsequently proved their right to attend school in the Texas border town.
A consultant’s report failed to mention the residency enforcement issue, leaving some school board members and many people involved in the search process unaware of an issue that drew national headlines when it occurred and drew the involvement of legal aid attorneys in the Del Rio area. The consultant told the New Britain Herald in early March that the enforcement action was irrelevant to New Britain’s search and was only shared verbally in mid-February as the process entered the home stretch.
Cooper, 51, rose to the top of the finalist list with two others based on accomplishments with English Language Learners and extensive experience in diverse districts in Arizona and Texas. In addition to leading the San Felipe Del Rio District of 10,400 students, he previously was superintendent of the Nogales, Arizona Schools with 6,400 students. Cooper holds a B.A. in anthropology, a Master of Art degree in educational administration and an ABD/PhD without a dissertation, all from New Mexico State University.