The idea of a community school is not new, but the transformational community school model is new to Tennessee. This model proves that the parents, caregivers, educators and the community must be involved in developing solutions to reach transformational results. The Tennessee PTA and the Tennessee Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools has partnered with the Tennessee Education Association and other public education-minded groups across the state to advocate for the creation of “Transformational Community Schools.”
Creating a “Transformational Community School” is not a program, but a process to engage and problem solve. A deep understanding of an individual school’s needs and assets are developed first. The process involves problem-solving with key stakeholders and administrative leadership. Strategic partnerships are formed with businesses, churches, non-profits, and various government agencies. Family Resource Centers, district engagement specialist, and non-profit partners such as United Way are already doing part of this work. Tennessee has providers like Communities In Schools case-managing students to help address chronic health problems, absenteeism and discipline struggles. Where proven positive results are seen nationally is when a dedicated school site-coordinator uses the transformational framework to strategically assess, align and target these intentional solutions, directly impacting students and the communities where they live.
Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville has many of the same challenges students face nationally growing up in under-resourced communities. The entertainment magnet theme creates dynamic classrooms, yet students still struggle. Their needs assessment process highlighted the challenges of significant learning gaps, chronic absenteeism, high mobility and poverty. Students remained at risk for dropping out and incarceration. MNPS Community Achieves, a visionary principal, community members, families, educators, and students came together to implemented restorative discipline practices, social-emotional supports and trauma-informed care for students and parents. As a result, Pearl-Cohn now has an 88.9 percent college acceptance, 1.1 percent growth on their ACT and a 68 percent reduction in discipline infractions. Though many barriers persist, Pearl-Cohn is a place where students experience belonging and hope.
It is time to recognize schools are on the front lines to engage families in addressing barriers to learning. Community and parent engagement is often neglected as teachers and administration are forced to hyper-focus on test results and teaching to standards. Many times, there is a lack of buy-in from leadership to believe the community is even capable of participating. Sometimes there is an unwillingness to fund the outreach or take the time to build trust and get families to the table. A community schools coordinator works with the PTA, community partners, district, families, and community engagement as well as educators to connect families with what they need to succeed. This work is slow and personal.
Our next steps should be to listen to our district educators as they define what they need to make our schools the best. We need to ask our Tennessee Department of Education to empower principal leadership by providing guidance to build community partnerships and help fund site coordinators. We need to recognize that the best results come when principals, families, educators and students are included in shared decision-making that directly impacts children’s lives.
Cheryl Floyd is a Memphis resident, former public school parent and the State President of the Tennessee PTA. Lyn Hoyt is a Nashville resident, public school parent and the State Community Schools Alliance Coordinator for Tennessee AROS
A version of this op-ed ran in the the "Commercial Appeal." January, 15, 2018