District Administration December2017 - 34
The programs are having a positive
impact. Attendance, particularly among
students who have visited the district's
health clinics, has improved, while
youngsters who participate in the Homework Diners have shown academic gains,
"It opens up a whole new ball game,"
she says. "It's more work, but it's worth it."
Giving families a voice
Smaller districts, particularly low-income
systems, also have taken up the community schools cause.
Programs at the predominantly Hispanic West Chicago district rest on five
pillars: academic achievement, health,
stable families, community engagement
and emergency preparedness, says Johns,
The district operates food pantries and
offers mental health services and nutrition classes. Among its more unique programs are leadership, language and computer classes for parents, many of whom
feel like they will get better jobs if they
improve their skills.
Parents also learn how to get involved
in local issues and how to organize community activities, says Johns.
"We're countering the impact of people feeling marginalized-we're teaching
them how to have a voice," he says.
The services, which are overseen by
the district's director of community partnerships, also provide a sense of comfort
for educators. Principals can now go to
their school's community coordinator to
get professional help for students in distress, Johns says.
Similarly, in Escambia County
Schools on the Florida panhandle, teacher
retention rates have hit an all-time high
at C.A. Weis Elementary. The district
launched its first community program
there in 2015, Superintendent Malcolm
The efforts-which include a schoolbased clinic and have gone as far as helping parents prepare tax returns-are also
opening the eyes of various stakeholders
to the problems that public school districts grapple with, Thomas says.
"Education happens everywhere in
the community, so don't just sit on the
sidelines and point your fingers at schools
Chicago Elementary School District
provides parents with classes in
leadership, English language, job
skills and community organizing.
and shake your heads," Thomas says.
"Get in the game-get on the field with
us and you're going to see we have challenges external to our schools that are
pretty debilitating." DA
Matt Zalaznick is senior associate editor.
A partner in finding partners
Administrators who don't feel their staffs have the time to
manage community programs have contracted with outside
groups to organize and oversee services.
Communities in Schools, which partners with about
400 districts in 25 states, has been helping administrators
provide non-academic supports to students in high-need
schools for about 40 years, says Gary Chapman, the nonprofit's executive vice president for business development.
A school provides about two-thirds of the funding to
bring a full-time Communities in Schools coordinator into
The nonprofit generates the rest of the funding from
community organizations and private donors. The coordinator's first step is to help a school conduct a needs assessment to determine what services to offer.
The organization also provides extensive data tracking
to make sure the supports are having the intended impact.
Schools in its network have shown increases in graduation and attendance, higher fourth- and eighth-grade
34 December 2017
reading scores, and a reduction in dropouts, Chapman
adds. "We're accelerating how much a district can do on its
own," Chapman says.
HELPING HAND-A Communities in Schools
coordinator, left, with students at Wakefield High
School in Arlington, Virginia.