Philadelphia Public Schools Explore the Options of “Community Schools”

Philadelphia Public Schools Explore the Options of “Community Schools”
Philadelphia continues to explore the community school option as a way of maximizing resources for students. What is a community school and what are its benefits?
The idea of community schooling is not a new one, but it is one that has presented significant challenges to Philadelphia Public Schools. Community schools have cropped up in a variety of locations around the country and have proved their worth to students as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. As Philadelphia takes yet another look at the feasibility of community schools in this large district, it is an opportune time to examine the many potential benefits this school model provides.
What is a Community School?
According to the website for the Coalition for Community Schools, this school model features a partnership between the school and other community resources. The model recognizes that the learning process does not occur in a vacuum and that students bring other factors to the table when they come to class every day. The community school strives to address as many of those factors as possible, to ensure students of all backgrounds and income levels have the best possible shot at academic success.
A true community school goes well beyond the academic realm, however. These full-service institutions offer health care, social services and support systems in addition to a wide range of academic options. Community schools also extend their hours and their access, to ensure all members of the community that require these services may find what they need right at the school.
In addition to offering a wide range of services, a community school must successfully integrate the various options into a single, efficient unit where learning is the top priority. This process requires a savvy management team experienced with the community school model to ensure smooth operations and synchronization of the various services provided. Relationships between school staff and community partners must also be nurtured, to ensure teachers and administrators have the resources at their fingertips to help their students and families in need.
Where are they Located?
Community school models have cropped up around the country, from coast to coast. Some of those locations include:
  • CincinnatiThe Notebook reports that the Community Learning Centers were established in 1999 as a means of raising the bar on public education in this city. They were a response to a declaration by the federal government that Cincinnati public schools were the worst in the state of Ohio. The Community Learning Centers feature preschool and adult education, health care and dental services. The community schools have slowed migration of families to the suburbs and improved graduation rates throughout the city.  
  • Portland – This Oregon city has established the SUN Service System (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) to help families in the city get the services they need. Through partnerships between area businesses and social service organizations, services are provided to children and families right at school locations. Since the program was established, Portland has seen improved attendance and academic performance at its public schools.
  • Connecticut – According to a recent report from Trinity College, the state legislature in Connecticut is weighing the merits of a new bill that would create community schools in this state. Proponents of the bill argue that the establishment of community schools would help meet the needs of students throughout the state and equalize the educational opportunities for all students.
  • New York – The Harlem Children’s Zone is a model used for the creation of community schools throughout the country. This project encompasses 100 blocks in New York City’s poorest area of Harlem, providing education and other services for families from the infant years through adulthood. The underlying goal of the project is to strengthen families and the community, to ensure students in the neighborhood get the best possible start in life.
Benefits of Community Schools
According to a report at the Examiner, there are many potential benefits of community schools, including:
  • The ability to address student needs that are out of the realm of responsibility of the teacher or the school
  • The accessibility of health care and other social services poor families might not otherwise have available to them
  • Research suggests that community schools have a positive impact on the academic success of students at the school
  • The capacity to bring a community together by strengthening the family units and extended relationships of those that live there
  • A greater sense of belonging for both students and the adults that live within the school community
Philadelphia’s Quest for Community Schools
With many potential benefits, it is no wonder the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) is making the establishment of community schools a priority. At the district level, administrators are working to establish positive partnerships between the schools and businesses and organizations within the community. The superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools, William Hite, has also appointed a position of chief of student services, which will work to integrate families in the district into available services.
Although Hite has told the Notebook that he is willing to work with PCAPS in establishing community schools throughout the city, he is concerned that this model will be seen as an alternative to school closings. The district has decided to close 23 schools and lay off more than 3,700 district employees as a drastic fix to the district’s huge budget deficit. Those closures and firings have been protested by teachers, parents and students throughout the district.
In the meantime, steps are in place to move Philadelphia closer to the community school model. Time will tell whether community schools will effectively be established within this large school district and whether they will bring forth the positive changes many are hoping for in Philadelphia.
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