Community Schools have been developed by communities with a deep concern about improving learning for their children, explained Martin J. Blank, Staff Director of the Coalition for Community Schools. They arose out of the recognition that the traditional model of education is failing many of our children, particularly the most vulnerable, and that a new model of education requires a deeper and stronger commitment from all parties in the community. In general, community schools include partnerships between public schools, families, health and human service agencies, youth development organizations, and other community representatives. The partners use school facilities to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children and their families, such as health and mental health services, social services, parent education, childcare, and recreational activities. These services are often available during and after school, seven days a week, year-round. The services offered generally cover five core areas: quality education, youth development programs, family support, family and community engagement, and community development. The Coalition for Community Schools, funded by a C. S. Mott Foundation grant, is acting to mobilize resources from multiple sectors, create a central point of information about community schools, build public understanding and support for the model, and develop sustainable sources of funding. There are many models of community schools; Jacksonville, FL and Denver, CO provide two examples of how these models can be developed and sustained.
In 1994 Jacksonville was struggling with a high percentage of children living in poverty, high rates of teen pregnancy and juvenile delinquency, low child immunization rates, and graduation rates below 70 percent. When a child was killed playing on school grounds after school hours, the community decided it was time to act. A city ordinance was passed creating the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, with an emphasis on prevention and youth development services, including pre-natal care, home nurse visitation, and after-school recreational programs. The Commission began its work planning, developing, announcing, and opening its programs on school grounds. But, said Mary Freeland, Executive Director of Jacksonville Children’s Commission, the schools were never invited to the table, which immediately created an atmosphere of distrust and displeasure. The schools did not distribute information about the programs and gave them the worst rooms in the building. The following year, the schools decided to open their own after-school program, with emphasis on academics as opposed to youth development and recreation. The result was an overall decline in participation for both programs. Again, the community mobilized and required the two systems to work together.
After a few months of feuding, the partners realized that they had to work together for the good of the children. They agreed to develop a strategic plan that would respond to their different needs and interests. A decision was made to develop pre-K programs and to provide health, mental health, nutritional, social, and recreational supports to children on school grounds. Among the many programs currently funded by the Commission are the Summer Lunch Program, that offers nutritional meals to more than 13,000 children daily; after-school youth programs at 14 neighborhood centers run by not-for-profit organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs; and developmental and after-school programs for children with special needs. Citizen’s Advisory Councils help with decision-making and families are actively involved at the program level. The partnership has joined forces to expand resources and last year, the Commission’s budget exceeded $39 million, including two 21st Century Community Learning Center grants. Currently, the partnership serves one out of four children in the area. Attesting to the success of the programs, attendance and promotion rates have increased and risky behaviors, such as teen pregnancy, are in decline.
When the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund provided Denver with a $1 million grant to establish Beacon Neighborhood Centers, the Fund required a not-for-profit organization to be the fiscal agent. The choice was the Rose Community Foundation that had experience and clout with the community. At the first meeting, said Phil Gonring, Program Officer at the Rose CommunityFoundation, he was struck by the tense relationship between the schools and the not-for-profit agencies. It was clear that, before they could do anything for the children, the adult partners would have to learn how to work together. That was three years ago. Now, Denver has three Beacon Neighborhood Centers that provide diverse services to families and young children. The role of the Rose Foundation was pivotal in setting ground rules, establishing communication among all partners, and serving as an intermediary between the community and the schools, said Shirley Farnsworth, Director of Community Education for the Denver Public Schools, which oversees the projects. The next stage in the process is to shift the management of the programs from the school to an independent organization. Denver is also looking into partnerships with postsecondary education institutions to incorporate some of the features successfully employed by colleges and universities, including service-learning.
Panelists said it takes three to five years to solidify partnerships, design programs, and solve the glitches until they are functioning well. Therefore, sustainability is an important factor of success. For instance, Jacksonville had a referendum to increase taxes to pay for the programs, but the referendum was defeated. Currently, the mayor is using surplus money from a strong economy to pay for the programs, but a recession may cut this funding source. Relying on money from corporations is risky, panelists said, because they tend to change goals and recipients after a few years. Seed money is easy to find, but ongoing funding is the problem. Panelists felt that intermediary organizations have an important role in the process. They can function as a central point of information and community organization. They also provide a neutral negotiator to ensure all partners are working together. Finally, these intermediaries can focus on issues of sustainability, leaving the partners free to focus on providing services.
This information is from an American Youth Policy Forum held on March 10, 2000 at the Rayburn House Office Building, reported by Sonia Jurich.
Martin J. Blank
c/o Institute for Educational Leadership
1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Director of Community Education
900 Grant Street
Denver, CO 80203
421 West Church Street, Suite 222
Jacksonville, Florida 32202
600 S. Cherry Street,
Denver, CO 80246-1712