Schools alone cannot deal with the myriad health and learning issues their students face on a daily basis. That’s why school districts throughout the country embrace the community school strategy.
Using public schools as hubs, this strategy brings together partners in the schools’ communities to offer resources, support and opportunities for children and their families, thereby increasing equity.
At AASA’s national conference on Thursday, three superintendents whose districts use the community school strategy joined a Thought Leader discussion moderated by Martin Blank, past president of the Institute for Educational Leadership and director for the Coalition for Community Schools. The panelists included Steven Webb of Vancouver, Wash., Teresa Weatherall Neal of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Alton Frailey, president of AASA and a retired superintendent from Katy, Texas.
“It’s crucial to engage students and families,” said Blank, as he introduced the session. “Educators always needed communities for health and education. Partnering is important so that young people are able to learn and thrive.”
For Neal, the reason why she started community schools in her district in Michigan was common sense. She has a grandson who is African American and she wanted to make sure that all children like him have opportunities in the educational system, no matter their circumstances.
“If you want to change the narrative, you must make the community the hub,” said Neal. “As a superintendent, you own the place where you live. People will do what you need — this is our future.”
“Poverty is not a learning disability,” Webb added. “Culture trumps strategy every time. Pay attention to the cultural context in your community. Set young people up for post-secondary success. It begins in your neighborhoods.”
As AASA president, Frailey has advocated for elevating the value of community in schools (www.aasa.org/headlinecontent.aspx?id=39967). For him, this is a moral duty, as both an educator and a citizen.
“We need leaders in schools that kids and look up to. Kids shouldn’t feel less than anybody,” he explained during the panel.
Frailey noted that the biggest argument he hears in the community come from residents who don’t have kids in schools. As a result, Frailey created a comprehensive list detailing the year each school in his district opened, so people could see how schools affected their own grown up children or even themselves.
“It’s a new payment of paying it forward,” Frailey stated. “I tell them, it’s in your best interest both spiritually and morally.”
(Rebecca Shaw is a reporter for Conference Daily Online.)