It didn’t take me too long after I began studying public schools to realize too many educators can’t seem to see the forest for the trees.  I mean if it doesn’t involve test scores, how a teacher manages their class or finding the perfect formula for perfect classes of children to do perfect things, it might as well be on the dark side of the moon.

Mike Sentance’s new strategic plan, Alabama Ascending is a perfect example.  There are sections about Prepared Graduates, Pathways to Careers and Higher Education, Superior Educator Preparation, Continuous Improvement of World-Class Educators, Supporting an Accountable System.  Finally on pages 18-19-20 of a 20-page report, Healthy and Safe Systems and Schools and Engaged Families and Communities are mentioned.

And though they seem to be only an afterthought, in today’s world with increasing numbers of poverty students, attention to things outside the classroom are more important than ever before.

Most of the schools I visit are high-poverty elementary schools.  Usually I ask the principal if they are an “educator” or a “social worker.”  The customary answer is something like, “It depends on which day of the week it is.”  And one wonders how is it possible for the principal to be the “instructional leader” for a school when they are trying to track down someone at the Department of Human Resources or the police department.

This is where the concept of community schools comes in.  These are schools where someone finally figured out that kids who are hungry, have emotional problems, can’t see well or have a naching tooth are unlikely to be ready to learn when in the classroom.

The best such program I have seen is in Cincinnati, OH.  More than 50 schools are involved.  Not only does the school see the “whole” child, they also engage the local community in school engagement.  Take a few moments and look at this program’s website

Now the National Education Policy Center has published a comprehensive look at community schools.  They did an extensive review of research. Go here to see the entire brief.  Some of their comments:

“This brief examines the research on community schools, with two primary emphases. First, it explores whether the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens the possibility of investing in well-designed community schools to meet the educational needs of low-achieving students in high-poverty schools. And second, it provides support to school, district, and state leaders as they consider, propose, or implement a community school intervention in schools targeted for comprehensive support.
Community schools represent a place-based school improvement strategy in which “schools partner  with  community  agencies  and  local  government  to  provide  an  integrated  focus  on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement.”

Many operate year-round, from morning to evening, and serve both children and  adults.  Although  the  approach  is  appropriate  for  students  of  all  backgrounds,  many community schools serve neighborhoods where poverty and racism erect barriers to learning and where families have few resources to supplement what typical schools provide.

Community schools vary in the programs they offer and the way they operate, depending on
their local context. However, four features—or pillars—appear in most community schools:

1) Integrated student supports
2) Expanded learning time and opportunities
3) Family and community engagement
4) Collaborative leadership and practices

We conclude from our review that the evidence base on well-implemented community schools and their component features provides a strong warrant for their potential contribution to school improvement.”

Montgomery’s ten “failing schools” have a collective 66.1 percent poverty rate, as compared to 20.2 percent for the ten magnet schools.  Maybe instead of spending $500,000+ dollars on Massachusetts consultants we should be spending this money on dentists.