Monday, February 9, 2015

Support Rings for Community Schools Approach at Senate Roundtable Discussion

By: Michael Augustine, Coalition for Community Schools Intern

Are schools today capable of adequately meeting the needs of all their students? On Tuesday February 3rd, the Senate Committee of Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) conducted a ‘roundtable discussion’ discussing the role that innovative practices play in better educating America’s youth.

The third and final hearing addressing the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) doubled-down on previous discussions regarding how education policy can address the diverse needs of young people. While predictable topics such as testing accountability and state versus federal decision making captured portions of the discussion, most of the invited witnesses strongly claimed that addressing the social and emotional needs of every K-12 student is paramount to unlocking student achievement and potential. These voices rang loudest and clearest on Tuesday, as policymakers listened and chimed in with support.

One of these voices belongs to local Community School Coordinator Henriette Taylor, who spoke powerfully on her role at The Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School in Baltimore, MD. With close to 100% of the school’s students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, Taylor plays an instrumental part as her school’s community coordinator identifying and addressing the immediate needs and wants of students and their families. The Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School is one of 43 of Baltimore City Public Schools Community Schools. Coordinated with the Family League of Baltimore, the Baltimore City Community School Initiative enables Coordinators like Taylor to to conduct a school-wide assets and needs assessment, and then recruit and maintain strategic community partnerships to give students and their families these specific supports and opportunities. Hers is a role  that teachers are too often burdened to take on in non-community schools, in addition to their teaching roles, which leads to teacher burnout particularly in high-need schools. Her testimony is available here.

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), a fellow advocate for Maryland public education, recognized the importance of Ms. Taylor’s work and the role that community schools play in empowering students. The Senator simply asked: “Do you need a school social worker?” And in reply, Ms. Taylor said: “Desperately.” Senator Mikulski repeated the question two more times, asking if high-need schools also need nurses and community school coordinators in order to support student success. Twice more Ms. Taylor adamantly replied: “Desperately.”

When students’ needs are not met outside of school, teachers and school leaders are indirectly tasked with trying their best to provide support to their students in school. However, it is an integral part of the Community Schools strategy to establish partnerships and social support to students to allow teachers to spend more time and effort on providing instruction and academic support. For example, Taylor’s position as coordinator leverages community partnerships in order to support her students’ needs. When students are supported by a trio of schools, community partners, and school coordinators, teachers can focus on teaching, knowing then that their students’ other needs have been met.

Senators Mikulski, Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and others all spoke in support of the education and development of the ‘whole child’ during the roundtable debate. Whether calling for ‘full service community schools’ or ‘wrap around services,’ the ‘whole child” approach advocates that students must receive critical supports for their physical, social, emotional, cognitive and civic development. This approach gained a lot of momentum at Tuesday’s hearing, which is hopeful progress.

But the question stands: how will a reauthorized ESEA encapsulate the values of the Community School strategy or expand on President Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods? As Chairman Lamar Alexander (D-TN) noted in his opening remarks, federal policy must give flexibility to states to decide how to best support students. Instead of rushing to implement federal programs, Alexander advocated for more state flexibility for funding the innovations and programs that fit their localities.
Going in a different direction, ranking member Senator Patty Murray insisted that the nation’s next education policy has the opportunity to set “innovation in education [as] a national priority.” Other witnesses added to this, indicating that it’s important to address local needs, but there are certainly goals such as increasing attendance, graduation and college participation rates, and the job pool for Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics (STEM) positions that apply to every state. Federal support and vision-setting for these goals is crucial moving forward.

The Coalition for Community Schools recently wrote to Senators Alexander and Murray with key recommendations for ESEA. The letter holds the support of 44 of the Coalition’s partners, including the American Federation of Teachers, Harlem Children’s Zone, National Education Association, United Way Worldwide, and 21st Century School Fund. The letter recommends that ESEA:
  • Incentivizes school-community partnerships at the school, district and state levels that coordinate resources between schools and community partners (public and private) to address the comprehensive needs of students and provide enriching learning and development opportunities during and outside of school hours.
  • Authorizes the bipartisan Full-Service Community Schools Act, and reference full-service community schools as an allowable school turnaround model in Title I and an allowable strategy for Safe and Healthy students in Title IV.
  • Requires SEAs and LEAs in Title I to identify and report results beyond academic achievement to include indicators for health and wellness, discipline, attendance, and family engagement

The next ESEA must address the needs of today’s youth, and the history of educational inequity that NCLB aimed to address over a decade ago. Senators Alexander and Murray have claimed so far that their work has been bipartisan. While partisanship has flashed during these hearings, there is definitely something to agree on: Community Schools.

It is crucial to discuss how the reauthorization of ESEA will in fact support states, districts, and schools in extending greater opportunities to all youth and communities. Legislation supporting the principles of the Community School strategy is not only possible for this 114th Congress, but also crucial to empower all students across the country to succeed and reach their fullest potential.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Senate Education Committee Discusses the Unmet Needs of Struggling Students

By: Michael Augustine, Coalition for Community Schools Intern

More resources and local efforts are crucial for the advancement of America’s underserved students. This sentiment reigned during the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing Tuesday morning, January 27th. Meeting before a panel of witnesses representing teachers, school and state leaders, and educational researchers, the 114th Congress HELP committee engaged in its second formal discussion on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that hasn’t been reauthorized since No Child Left Behind in 2002.

Chaired by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the hearing explored how teachers and school leaders can better serve the unique and pressing needs of students across the country. Testimonies from a teacher, principal, and superintendent examined out of school factors, such as health and emotional supports.

Educator Rachelle Moore, an alumna of the Seattle Teacher Residency program, strongly advocated for policies representing the needs of “the whole child.” Moore described her role as a 2nd grade teacher at Madrona K-8, a high-need school, as that of both a social worker and educator. Her testimony reflected shared values held at the Coalition for Community Schools: schools that address the needs of students and communities provide students the greatest opportunity to succeed. Providing essential supports like health, mental health and nutrition for students from low economic and marginalized backgrounds is an integral step to ensuring their success.

By inviting several witnesses who work directly with schools and students, the committee heard voices not typically involved in shaping federal education policy. Accordingly, nearly every witness called for policy makers to support work from the ground up to address educational inequities. Both senators and witnesses spoke on the importance of reauthorizing a bill that provides teachers and school leaders the tools to improve academic achievement.  

Ranking Member Senator Murray (D-WA) emphasized the need to put more resources into preparing and supporting teachers, who face greater challenges when working in struggling districts. Murray concluded that teachers are too often unequipped to match the needs of students from low-income and/or English as a second language backgrounds. Only by recognizing and preparing for the specific needs of students can teachers adequately serve students.

Similarly, here at the Coalition for Community Schools we believe that identifying and addressing the multitude of challenges facing students is an integral part of raising student achievement. One policy we are advocating for in the reauthorization of ESEA is requiring schools receiving Title I funding to go beyond the measurement of only academic indicators. Incorporating non-academic indicators (i.e. health and wellness, attendance, family engagement, and discipline) into Title I would empower schools to know and better address these pressing issues that impact achievement. This sentiment aligns with the call to action that many speakers raised at Tuesday’s hearing regarding just how important student wellbeing and engagement are towards general achievement. When considering how to best raise our country’s educational performance and close achievement gaps, legislators should recognize that it is crucial to provide students both enriching learning opportunities and access to a myriad of necessary supports.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What Community Schools Taught Me

More than a year before I even applied to intern here at the Coalition for Community Schools, I had done some research about the community school model at a prior internship.  While scouring the Coalition’s website in 2013, I remember thinking: how could this model ever achieve success?  Now, on my last day of this incredible internship, I could speak for hours about the countless ways in which a community school leads to successful students, families and communities.  Over the course of this semester I have grown more passionate about community schools every day I come into this office; completely transformed from the skeptic I once was.  This internship has helped me to improve my written and oral communication skills, I have learned more about educational organizations, and I can now collaborate with others more effectively. Although those skills will be useful for me professionally, what I have truly gained cannot be condensed to fit on a resume.  I will walk out of the Coalition’s office today with a renewed attitude not only on education, but on the communities in which we all live, and how to make them better. 

On my very first day at the Coalition, we hit the ground running and I was on the phone with a California Community School Director by lunchtime, and at a Capitol Hill meeting that afternoon.  Even in that first day, I began to realize the depth of the impact this model has on the lives of those it serves.  By the end of my first week, I was not only convinced that community schools were a fantastic idea, but I had become intensely passionate about advocating for the cause.  By the end of my second week, I found myself compulsively talking about community schools to anyone who would listen.  Needless to say, I was hooked.  

Since then, I have been immersed in seemingly anything and everything community schools: from research about collaboration and quality to framing success of a community school in convincing ways.  I often find myself shocked that there was a time I doubted the effectiveness of a community school. How did I not realize that a child cannot achieve academic success if he or she is hungry, or struggling with problems at home?  How did I not realize that a school should be a hub for community activity, collaboration and learning?  How did I not realize that communities across the country, like the one I am from, can be absolutely transformed by community schools?  With this epiphany came a plan to focus my passion into action, while continuing to work on community schools once I leave Washington, D.C.

In January, when I return to St. Lawrence University to finish my junior year, I will be conducting an independent study about community school implementation and measures of success in two locations that could stand to benefit immensely from the model.  I chose two starkly contrasting places for this study, both of which are special to me: Schenectady, New York, my hometown, and Canton, New York, where St. Lawrence is located.  Schenectady is a much more metropolitan area that struggles with high poverty rates, while Canton is a rural small town in the poorest county in New York State.  The extreme difference in these two locations showcases how extraordinarily versatile the community schools model is.  No matter the location, demographic or population of a community, the holistic approach to learning that is community schools can be transformative for not only students, but their families and the places that they call home.  

These few short months I have spent at the Coalition for Community Schools have not only facilitated my shift from a skeptic to an advocate, but I now view change in a different light.  Creating change in one’s community obviously requires deliberate and diligent effort, but it is often overlooked as being too difficult to produce.  The Community Schools movement showcases exactly how possible creation of change can be.  Just as students work together to build towers of blocks or complete group projects, we as adults must first work together to ignite change in our communities and schools. In the years since building towers with classmates, I had forgotten the value of teamwork; that wooden block skyscraper would not have been as tall or wide without help from my friends.  Re-learning this vital lesson is directly linked to my work here at the Coalition, and for that: thank you community schools. 

By: Maya Williams
2014 Fall Intern

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Different Kind of Field Trip

Housed in Washington D.C., a classic tourist town, IEL doesn’t compete with the double-decker tour buses. Rather, we organize something different: field trips to see schools and communities working together.  One recent trip transported 25 Capitol Hill, executive branch and association staffers to Baltimore to learn about that city’s community school strategy and how it is driving outcomes for young people, families, and communities.  Baltimore now boasts 46 community schools, with another 22 being renovated as community hubs through the first phase of a $1 billion state school construction bond.

The study tour highlighted the Family League of Baltimore, Baltimore City Public Schools, and Elev8 Baltimore. The Mayor of Baltimore  has invested in community schools across the city. The Family League of Baltimore has melded its after school funding with the community school strategy. And, the school district is investing the state bond money to build new schools as community hubs.
Capitol Hill and national executive branch staff were inspired by the school-community coordination and strong results-based partnerships. They saw that community schools:
  • require strong cross-sector relationships, innovative leaders, and intensive coordination between school and community leaders;
  • address the challenges and barriers to learning that significantly impact student achievement (e.g. hunger, trauma, medical issues) in a strategic, intentional way; and,
  • benefit from federal policy that incentivizes and supports this work and replicates the evidence-based practices in community schools that are changing outcomes for students and their families.
These takeaways align with the Coalition’s policy agenda and the key principles that we advocate for at the federal level.

Noelle Ellerson (IEL EPFP 2009-10 alum), Associate Executive Director of Policy and Advocacy for the School Superintendents Association (AASA), said about the tour, “Day to day, we are entrenched in the policy and negotiations and numbers, and it was a welcome change of pace to see the policy in action and—most importantly—see how it works and how it is transforming not just students but full communities. Days and experiences like that affirm the need of solid, proven policy and the work of organizations like ours and IEL.”

As they say in leadership-speak, it’s all about getting the right people on the bus-and in this case, on a bus to Baltimore.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tutor Centers Reveal Importance of Community in Education

Student engagement -- a buzzword heard in almost every facet of education today, a term few would argue against. The discord however, surrounds the solutions created to foster student engagement. Shifting curriculum, school choice, and smaller class size are some of the national solutions that have been proposed. At the more local level, a recent initiative, 826 National, has been established to take this buzzword from the conversation and into action. .

826 National has created eight tutoring centers in different urban areas. Recognizing the stigmas associated with students who use these tutor centers in low income areas, 826 National has used unique retail storefronts to act as a curtain for the centers. Such storefronts as the Pirate Supply Store, Bigfoot Research Institute, Museum of Unnatural History, and a superhero equipment store house the tutor centers.  The centers emphasize creative writing, offering students writing workshops, one on one homework help, and bookmaking and storytelling field trips. In a more recent attempt to incorporate STEM learning, students perform science experiments or learn different science concepts to use as inspiration for a new story.

While the long term effects are contested, 826 National’s short term success is represented simply in its expansion. What started as a small tutoring center in San Francisco has grown to an organization that serves well over 30,000 under-resourced students across the country. However, in today’s data driven society, test scores also speak to the organization’s success. Students who have attended the tutoring centers programs showed improvement standardized tests scores -- 13% in story composition skills and 8% in contextual convention. Additionally, these students are more likely to report feeling enjoyment from writing and take pride in their work. However, 826 National is not the first organization to do what it does, give one on one attention and engage students who would otherwise not.

What sets apart the tutoring centers created by 826 National from organizations that also provide tutoring and one on one services to students is the emphasis on local assets and needs. An understanding of the importance of local support allows for flexibility in the programming.  For example, a center in New York City developed a film workshop in response to the large population of filmmakers willing to volunteer in the area. In Washington, DC, a vibrant poetry scene led to a Saturday poetry reading program. This emphasis on community assets follows directly in suit with the model for community schools. Fully understanding just what a community does in fact have and capitalizing on those resources allows for a more positive system than one that only highlights the shortcomings of a community. This system of thinking, however, does understand that a community has needs. For instance, An 826 Michigan community that was lacking in public transportation invested resources in a van that would drive students to the tutor center.

Through this asset based approach to community learning, students begin to see their community as one that does have something to offer, yet many of the resources that their communities possess do not fit into the conventional mold of a school. This positive and localized emphasis on not only needs but also assets of a community is one that sits as the forefront of community schools. It is this type of conversation and system of thinking however, that must be considered in educational policy reform. Policies enacted should assist communities in enabling their students to thrive and not just survive.

By Brooke Troutman, Intern for the Coalition for Community Schools

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hacking the Education System to ‘Transgress’

Last week, I attended the National Beacon Conference in Denver, Colo. It was an incredible convening of practitioners and students from all over the country. Beacon began in the early '90s in New York City. The crack epidemic, and its attending issues, were at an all-time high. Government officials had the choice of either building more prisons or supporting the hardest hit neighborhoods with community programs based on school campuses. Beacon was that program. This yearly conference is an opportunity for Beacon staff and students to get together and share promising practices and challenges in youth leadership and development, family engagement and evaluation.

During the morning plenary, my colleague, scholar and friend, Sarah Zeller-Berkman, said that we had to “hack” education. I was immediately intrigued. Aren’t hackers these brilliant computer whizzes turned criminals who make money stealing thousands of credit card numbers from so-called secure systems — for instance, Target, around Christmas? Don’t hackers exploit the fact that you’ve used your birthday as your password since college, sending all of your contacts ads for Rogaine or the newest flat screen TV? Aren’t hackers people who play high stakes global poker with the virtual security of the world? I mean, aren’t they the bad guys who sit behind computer screens thinking of ways to make the rest of us have a bad day? Certainly, those at the conference were the opposite of all that. Curious, I went to the ultimate authority: Wikipedia.

Apparently, hackers who maliciously exploit weaknesses in computer systems are called Black Hats, which brought the cold war cartoon Boris and Natasha immediately to mind (date myself much?). It’s a funny image, but the damage these folks cause to people’s lives is anything but. There are also White Hats, who combat the Black Hats and use their computer skills for good not evil, like the character Garcia on the TV show "Criminal Minds." She is brilliant, eclectic and able to defend and attack with a few computer keystrokes, often helping her team solve or prevent crimes. Even though their end games are diametrically opposed, the qualities that make them successful are similar. These hackers are smart, innovative discoverers who are not afraid to tinker with systems until they actually control and transform them. They are master problem solvers and risk takers, who aren’t intimidated by the prospect of failure. In fact, hackers use their failures to relentlessly and systematically clear obstructions and remove barriers to achieve their goals.

I found the concept exhilarating but not that new. Educational warriors such as Paolo Freire, Marty Blank, Jeff Duncan-Andrade and Lisa Delpit have tirelessly hacked education. Building on this legacy of hackers/Freedom Fighters, the smart, creative and dedicated problem solvers in that room could truly dismantle the harmful and unproductive parts of the educational system as we know it. I was reminded of a book called "Teaching to Transgress." In the book, feminist, educator and cultural critic, bell hooks (sic) wrote, “Education is the practice of freedom.” “Hacking to Transgress” could be the name of our contribution to that notion.

It was quite an experience to be in a room full of kids of color, watching as the idea of hacking their education took root. It dawned on me that perhaps explaining the hacking concept to our youth is actually the real hack as we are connecting them with the idea that they are essential actors, not just bystanders, in their education. But I realized that their education was only part of the picture. In order for them to really see education as the practice of freedom, we need to help them to see themselves as the most powerful tinkerers there are, able to take all the systems of their lives apart and reassemble them in a way that makes better sense. We have to help them reimagine the concepts of tinkering and failure, as necessary components of the process of transformation. We can help them see that the final frontier is actually not cyberspace or education, but the ability to transgress against all the boundaries that threaten to diminish their existence. I think that that would be a revolution that both the White Hats and Freedom Fighters would be proud of.
Carol Hill

By Carol R. Hill is the director of the Bayview Beacon and the author of “Powersharing: Building Community School Relationships from Friendship to Marriage,” published in Afterschool Matters, Fall 2011. Hill is working on her doctorate in education at San Francisco State University. This blog was reposted from Carol co-chairs the Coalition for Community Schools' Coordinators Network.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

There’s more to Education than Test Scores and Diplomas: The Whole Child Approach to Education

I am not the best test-taker. I need to study twice as long for an exam as many of my classmates do, despite having worked as hard as them in the class. On the other hand, however, I am active in organizations and find working in the community to be rewarding and, frankly, more valuable to my education than a multiple choice test. As a student and advocate of education, I find the government’s emphasis on these objective tests to be troubling, as I know there are many other students, especially in K-12 schools, in this position. There is much more to educational success than what is measured by standardized testing. Not only do these tests give an inaccurate depiction of students who do poorly on the test yet work hard, they also give an inaccurate depiction of people who do well on the tests yet could be lacking other crucial skills or struggling in areas that are not tested.

The misguided efforts of many recent educational policies that focused on raising test scores have led to a greater consensus among educational advocates about the need to address the out-of-school factors of a child’s development. The Whole Child Initiative, championed by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), partners with the Coalition for Community Schools to address the multiple factors that influence each child’s ability and willingness to learn. These factors are much broader than the traditional jurisdiction of the school, and expand into every aspect of the student’s life. The holistic nature of the Whole Child Initiative allows educators not only to respond to students’ needs in the context of academics, but also to ensure that each student feels safe and supported. The five tenets of the Whole Child Initiative include the following:

  • Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment. (
ASCD recently held a symposium on the whole child, with the theme of “Choosing Your Tomorrow Today”. The discussion by the panelists in the symposium focused around the idea of choice and its criticality in fostering creativity. They emphasized the need to promote choice in the form of extracurricular activities, learning decisions, curriculum, and freedom of speech. Allowing students the true ability to make their own choices in education is a crucial part of helping students to become more invested in their own learning, and is necessary in the fulfillment of the five Whole Child tenets, as listed above. For me as a child, it may have meant the ability to participate in community activism, and for others it could be corporate shadowing or learning about the physics of a baseball game.

An important aspect in the implementation of the Whole Child Initiative is expanding the way we evaluate our students to include factors of health and engagement, instead of simply subject content knowledge. ASCD took the next step and collected data measuring how students in each state, and the country as a whole, were doing in all areas of a Whole Child education. ASCD’s Whole Child Snapshots show factors including the prevalence of bullying and obesity within the state, the percentage of children who have been to the doctor and dentist within the last year, the percentage of students who care about school and complete all of the assigned homework, and graduation rates. These statistics illustrate the broad range of factors that influence each child’s ability to learn, and explain why previous policies placing emphasis on content knowledge are not accurate indicators of a student’s success in education. In addition, the idea of teaching to the tests to improve scores ignores most of the student’s developmental needs for success in education. In a world changing as fast as this one, content knowledge quickly becomes irrelevant; it is the ability and willingness to learn and adapt that students need to remain competitive. These strengths can only be realized when students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged in school.

So what does a school that is educating with the whole child in mind look like? In order for a school to be able to influence out-of-school factors, it has to have a strong relationship with its community. Community schools are an effective way to engage the entire community in education and provide much needed support simultaneously. These community hubs can stay open longer hours, offer health and social services to address needs of children that impact learning, and host events to bring the community together. The success of the community school initiative is illustrated in Cincinnati, Ohio, which has 36 fully-functioning community schools and hosted the 2014 Community Schools National Forum. You can read about Cincinnati’s success here. A stronger community provides more support for its students in many ways, and promotes the whole child in a way that the government or the teacher alone cannot. The perceptions of education and success need to be redefined to include the general well-being of the student which requires more engagement from the community in ways that support the whole child, not just the part of the child that fills in bubbles on a test.

By Hugo Lawton, Intern for the Coalition for Community Schools