Thursday, May 19, 2011

Better Together: Community Schools Turn Heads

Why this recent spate of stories about community schools? I have a couple of thoughts.

First, the country is facing enormously difficult economic challenges, and these challenges mean that the everyday realities of many families and many children have changed. It's like the Depression for too many. We know from research and experience, the long-term, life-changing impact that the Depression had on people's lives. Every day, all over the country, kids are hungry; families are in stress because of foreclosures and lack of rental assistance, among other things. All of these problems are immediate. Daily, schools are the place where all of these issues show up – affecting their efforts to educate kids. So the question becomes: how does the community come together to solve the long-term repercussions of recession? Community schools become the answer for many.

Community schools also are attracting more attention because our teachers are speaking up. They are responding to the critique of reformers, who say that education is only about what happens in the classroom, overlooking indeed- perhaps ignoring- the reality of young people's lives. As more teachers speak up, communities are beginning to listen to the challenges that exist. Other folks also are pushing back against the rhetoric that suggests that if only we could put a qualified teacher in every classroom all children would succeed. As more people speak up, the logic of the community school strategy makes more and more sense. People are recognizing that the school is the place around which the community can unite to make things happen for our children.

Finally, I think people like to hear stories about how schools and cities, United Ways, YMCAs, health centers, neighbors, and families are working together. We have become so individually oriented in our society that, in my judgment, we have lost our sense of common purpose. Community schools represent a return to that sense of working together for the common good, a return to the problem solving character of our democracy where people and organizations bust out of their silos and find ways to work collectively.

We are better together - and that's what community schools are about!

--Marty Blank, President, Institute for Educational Leadership and Director, Coalition for Community Schools

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