Bethel High School Principal Dr. Cosentino Reflects On 11 Year Career

Report by Paula Antolini, June 14, 2012, 12:30PM EDT

After dedicating 11 years guiding Bethel school students and staff to achieve excellence,  Bethel resident Dr. Patricia Cosentino will be leaving the Bethel school system on July 1, 2012, to become Superintendent of Schools for Connecticut Region 12.

“Making the transition from Berry School to Bethel High School has been amazing,”  Dr. Cosentino said. 

Working in Bethel schools changed her as a person in many ways. “When you are a principal of a school you are a leader of a family. You feel their joy and pain. You help them work through it and support them. As you get older you get wiser and try to teach the students and staff how precious life is. Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Dr. Cosentino said.

From the first day Dr. Cosentino stepped into Berry School as principal in 2001, she faced unexpected challenges. The Berry school renovation project was underway when she began her job there.  She joked that, “Renovation projects seemed to follow me. Some of the hallways were completely dug up.” 

She supervised a second renovation project when principal at Bethel High School.  She said her approach was “Be proactive and positive.”

Dr. Cosentino worked for three schools in New York City, the most recent was P.S. 206 in Queens, before becoming principal of Berry School in 2001. In 2006, she then went on to become the Bethel High School principal.

Cosentino received her Doctorate in Instructional Education from Western Connecticut State University in 2008, and has advanced Bethel High School to be accredited by New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

Prior to her position as principal of Bethel High School, she said, “My experience was mostly in elementary schools. High school is a totally different animal.”  She added, “Good teaching is good teaching regardless of what grade you are teaching.  If learning is meaningful and relevant, students tend to latch onto it rather than it be boring.”

By approaching school matters with a certain mindset, Cosentino said, “I wanted to address the climate of the building, the cohesiveness of staff and students,” Cosentino said.  “I worked hard. We are a service organization. Parents and students are our clients,” she said.  

Beginning with a survey that asked everyone at Bethel High School to list the three best and three worst things, she said, “I soon realized the students did not feel prideful.” Dr. Cosentino said. “The students exact words were, it’s a dump.”

“I was determined to get rid of the negative vibe that surrounded the building,” she said. “I worked hard to get the townspeople to vote and pass the renovation.”  

Dr. Cosentino said, “We had Operation Spruce Up in October 2001.”  She also received input from teachers and students about curriculum. “You start to give people a voice. Getting teachers to buy into our mission and delegating jobs for them to do was what lead to success during the building renovation. It raised spirits.”

Dr. Cosentino said, “The gym made a big difference, you want to be proud.” She felt that sports and being an athlete is very important to student. “People felt respected and listened to.”

“Our school is definitely ahead of the curve,” Dr. Cosentino said. “Our mission is to get college and career ready. Programs such as the Cap One Project, a 4 year plan culminating in a project to integrate their skills, are examples of this,” she said.  “Others are ROTC, the Digital Academy of Arts and Science, Western Connecticut State University, scholarships, and colleges available.” 

“There are numerous other projects to prepare students, such as taking college classes, internships, work study, and the EMT program. The staff is dedicated, programs are part of other programs, and we give them much information. We encourage students to join something,” Dr. Cosentino said. She indicated they have an “Activity Fair” each September where students can join various groups.

When asked what her greatest achievement was, Dr. Cosentino said, “The thing I am really proud of is giving the students and teachers a voice so they can really become part of the decision making process, to lead us in a way that is beneficial for everyone. It is important to be a community of learners so we can accomplish great things. I am confident that Bethel High School will continue onto the path of greater things.”

One of Dr. Cosentino’s favorite memories was doing a Bethel Educational TV (BEtv) program on channel 26. “I loved the experience of doing the Aunt Pat and Zack Show which then became the Aunt Pat and Justin Show,” she said.  Dr. Cosentino was on the show with her two nephews Zack and Justin, who are Bethel students. The topics covered were anything school-related or Bethel community events.

Dr. Cosentino was successful in having a career and family life, and said, “Organization is the key to success. Do not go anywhere without your agenda book.  Prioritize. The goal in life is to work hard, but play harder.”

“The people, the staff, the students, the families, and my administrative colleagues are what I will miss most,” she said. 

She is looking forward to her next position and said, “I like a good challenge.  It’s a district that has to grapple with a declining enrollment. Region 12 includes Washington, Roxbury and Bridgewater.” 

When asked if she has realized her dreams, she said, “My dreams are really to have a positive impact on the kid’s’ lives, so yes, in that regard, but I hope that there are more that I can send in a positive way.”

The advice Dr. Cosentino would give to her successor is, “Be a good listener and try not to be reactive, be proactive.  Never put anything in writing that you could not say to their face.  Have fun.  It’s a fun job.”

Dr. Patricia Cosentino in her office, Bethel High School, 2012. (File photo ©2012 BETHEL ADVOCATE / Paula Antolini)