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
When you see a community struggling to meet the needs of its school children and the fight to provide resources seems ineffective or misguided, is there an answer? We think so. Implemented with a deep community buy-in, a proven national strategy, a salaried school-level coordinator and a local stakeholder community board, public school communities can take ownership of their schools. The community starts with a set of results they want to achieve, and target their answer based on the resources in the community. The solution exists within the community itself guided by a deep needs assessment of the school. This is a Transformational Community School Model.
Tennessee AROS set out this year to raise the Community Schools IQ across the state. Lead by a coalition of Tennessee non-profits rooted in public school advocacy, SOCM, SPEAK, TEA, TnPTA and TREE they outlined goals for the first part of 2017. Below is a report with an informal Community Schools state audit that tries to connect the dots around some amazing Community Schools efforts across Tennessee, seen through TennAROS goals. With hope, we can continue to break down communication silos between community schools efforts and come together to help our State Department of Education see Transformational Community Schools as a successful, evidence-based approach to school improvement. Download the REPORT BELOW.
The AROS framework collaboratively aligns with the Coalition for Community Schools Standards.
TennAROS available to talk to your school boards, advocacy groups, alderman, city council, church, or other local civic groups to help explain the unique, evidence-based framework AROS advocates for, why we need community schools and how your community might go about creating them or improving the efforts you have already through non-profit partners or FRC's. This solution is community lead. Let us help you get started. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
A Community School is a public school – the hub of its neighborhood, uniting families, educators and community partners to provide all students with top-quality academics, enrichment, health and social services, and opportunities to succeed in school and in life.
Community schools are the kind of public schools that families want and children deserve.
A "Transformational Community School" is a school that starts with a set of results they want to achieve. And they organize the community around agreed-upon results and identify the resources to achieve them. This transformational organizing is guided with deep community buy-in, a proven national strategy, a salaried school-level coordinator and a local stakeholder board.
A Community School is not a new idea. They exist everywhere the community provides student-centered supports:
Instead of fragmenting neighborhoods, these hyper-local schools unify them. Instead of inventing another “silver bullet,” community schools offer a proven approach that’s rooted in our democratic values and retooled for the 21st-century, with neighbors helping neighbors, and schools serving as the hub of their communities.
Community schools, 7,500 and growing, represent a national movement with a multi-decade track record of improving achievement, empowering students and families, and strengthening neighborhoods. They are flourishing in a growing number of cities, suburbs, and rural America, in regular public schools and public charter schools. Community schools offer an approach that builds on core American values to meet 21st-century needs. They are more relevant than ever.
Community Schools are appropriate ESSA intervention strategy for school improvement. Any school can be a community school.
How Can You Start a Community School?
Many districts and school leaders in Tennessee already have components of a community school already in place. If you are ready to leverage and expand that effort, start below with the Coalition of Community Schools Overview and Guide. They provide resources and tools will help you design and implement community schools at the school-site level. These resources are divided into several interconnected steps that will help you get started. Many of the resources in this toolkit originate from community schools initiatives around the country that have been working on developing community schools for many years.
Community Schools Overview
Here are resources that provide an overview of the community school strategy:
Building a Leadership Team
Needs and Capacity Assessments
Sharing Space and Facilities
Financing your Community School
Research and Evaluation for Continuous Improvement
READ MORE on the Coalition for Community Schools website:
Still need more evidence? To read the brief click here.