Tennessee AROS was invited by the National Education Association to attend a gathering of administrators, educators, community schools coordinators, community organizers, teacher association members and parents to learn more from community schools in action and learn from different cities and districts in different phases of community schools implementation.
Everyone invited already had some of the community schools (CS) methods in place. And everyone was in different phases of advocating for the creation of more community schools. The concept of what a CS is or how to define it is also an ongoing discussion. The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools has been working for several years trying to define what a great community school is doing and how they sustain success. AROS has discovered some common traits.
1. Needs Assessment & vision
2. Strategic Plan
3. Hired Full-time Site Coordinator
4. Stakeholder Community School Board
The needs assessment involves 75% to 100% of school staff, parents, students and community engaged in surveys, interviews and forums.
And a 6 point strategy was put in place that included the following:
Attendees shared that their Community Schools site coordinators were funded in a multitude of ways. Some were privately funded by foundation grants. Others were operating in cooperation with their local Family Resource Center. Some were district funded through local LEA budgets. Others found title 1, title 4 or other student support grants to help fund their school-based site coordinators. There is no right or wrong way. And many states are trying to legislate funding. Pioneering a CS model means there will be many funding and service constructs that are either district or non-profit lead. Everyone was working towards making sure those site coordinators were sustained. And it is the site coordinators job to help the services and supports strategically address the school plan. Click here to view a typical job description for a site coordinator.
In Austin, I had the pleasure of visiting Burnet Middle School. A Title 1 middle school, 83% Hispanic and 58% ELL. Burnet began their community schools program with a grant two years ago. They consider themselves “emerging” in the process of a fully implemented community school. The other middle school toured was Webb Middle. Webb is considered a “fully realized” CS model. And their academic and community health results show. In 2009 enrollment was 485 (97% FARM; 50% ELL) and they were the lowest performing middle school in Austin, TX and on the verge of closing. In 2016 enrollment is now 1000 (98% FARM; 60% ELL; 90% Latino, 9% African-American) and they are the highest performing Title 1 middle school in Austin out of 15 middle schools.
Both Burnet and Webb work closely with their Family Resource Centers. Their model has multiple support organizations and services working in a strategic collaboration. The Family Resource Center does provide part of the family supports. But, not all of the 6 point strategy can be met by the FRC to see real transformational results. Austin Partners in Education (Like Nashville Pencil Partners) works with the site Coordinator to bring in volunteers. Communities In Schools provided social and emotional supports for children to resolve conflict and deal with anger and ACEs so they can focus on school. Seedling Foundation is an Austin non-profit that provides mentoring for children with incarcerated parents and Council on At-Risk Youth works with the schools on violence prevention.
The benefits are measured in multiple ways. The efficiencies of services, both grant funded, through government agencies and in-kind, show that for every $1 invested there is a $3 return. Kids have opportunities to lead in their communities and participate in arts and music. And cultural relevance is centered around community pride and support around academic success. The Community Schools model ensures success so students can create agency for their own success. The entire community rallies to support the school by not just targeting the deficits, but supporting the strengths. It is the ultimate bootstrap. The community is solving their own problems and creating their own solutions that are community driven and child-focused.
Many schools already do pieces of the community schools model. But, transformational/ fully-realized community schools are not just wraparound supports or extended day. They go deeper addressing the specific needs of parents, teachers and students thought deep engagement (multiple forums, interviews, surveys) that drives a solution from the bottom up, not the top down. Engagement is the hardest work because it takes the time to earn the trust of parents. The site coordinator plans multiple meetings and keeping people informed even when they cannot attend. If you are not engaging 75% or more of your parents or guardians, you will not be strategic in providing for your needs.
Mobility was significantly impacted by the deep needs assessment of parents at Burnet Middle. Student mobility refers to student turnover at a school during the academic year. This turnover can refer to a student changing schools within a district or between districts, or drop out of school completely. (READ Report) Multiple interviews at Burnet discovered a major reason for “reactive” mobility was the inability to pay utilities. Once a household was behind, and the lights were cut off, it was time to move. Leaving the utility company hanging and families searching for new housing situations. The Family Resource Center helped educate families about available assistance through Austin Energy to keep the lights on and curb mobility.
Both Burnet and Webb Middle Schools understand that just providing services won’t change the culture of the school. The site coordinator keeps ongoing engagement with parents and the community, sharing feedback with partner service providers. Burnet deploys a consistent looping methodology that looks at connections, resources, communication and advocacy to keep buy-in, engagement and maintains partner effectiveness. Creating a community school is a journey, not a destination. It is created around shared power, shared responsibility and creative problem-solving.
For more information click on savetxschools.org