A Word on Community Schools

Metro Nashville school board member Will Pinkston shared a story today about the success of community schools. Here’s what he had to say:

Friends: Think about a high-poverty, high-percentage English learner school system that’s expanding pre-kindergarten offerings, STEM programs, and community schools with wraparound supports for families. Sound familiar? Yes … That’s what’s happening in Metro Nashville Public Schools these days, thanks to new management and growing community-wide support. The good news is: These are among proven effective strategies (versus dismantling and privatizing public education, as charter and voucher zealots want to do). Below is a great column in today’s New York Times by contributing writer David L. Kirp profiling the Union Public Schools district in Tulsa, Okla., which proudly declares itself to be “the heart of the community and … a unifying force” in southeast Tulsa. Union Public Schools is less than one-fifth the size of MNPS, but I believe we can learn a lot from Union and other districts – and they can learn from us.

And here’s more from David Kirp:

“Our motto is: ‘We are here for all the kids,’ ” Cathy Burden, who retired in 2013 after 19 years as superintendent, told me. That’s not just a feel-good slogan. “About a decade ago I called a special principals’ meeting — the schools were closed that day because of an ice storm — and ran down the list of student dropouts, name by name,” she said. “No one knew the story of any kid on that list. It was humiliating — we hadn’t done our job.” It was also a wake-up call. “Since then,” she adds, “we tell the students, ‘We’re going to be the parent who shows you how you can go to college.’ ”


Last summer, Kirt Hartzler, the current superintendent, tracked down 64 seniors who had been on track to graduate but dropped out. He persuaded almost all of them to complete their coursework. “Too many educators give up on kids,” he told me. “They think that if an 18-year-old doesn’t have a diploma, he’s got to figure things out for himself. I hate that mind-set.”


This individual attention has paid off, as Union has defied the demographic odds. In 2016, the district had a high school graduation rate of 89 percent — 15 percentage points more than in 2007, when the community was wealthier, and 7 percentage points higher than the national average.

The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.

READ MORE about this exciting success story.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TheAndySpears


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