On June 2, Melissa Carpenter provided the District 65 School Board with a report on the community school pilot at Chute Middle School. She also said a Leadership Council, which is in the formation process, will consider how to expand the initiative to other schools in Evanston and how to connect with other initiatives in Evanston, such as the Evanston Cradle to Career initiative. Ms. Carpenter is the community school director at Youth Organization Umbrella (Y.O.U.) and facilitating both the pilot at Chute and the Leadership Council.
The School Board decided on Aug. 19, 2013, to partner with Y.O.U. and McGaw Y in an “Evanston Community Schools Initiative” and to contribute $25,000 toward the project. Other organizations and businesses are partnering in projects at Chute.
Community schools are being established across the nation. The lack of progress in addressing the achievement gap has led many scholars, educators and parents to advocate for a more holistic approach to address the needs of students from low-income households. They posit that providing a network of services at a school and keeping a school building open from dawn to dusk, six or seven days a week can improve student health, reduce impediments to student learning, increase student engagement, open doors to parental involvement, provide a more supportive environment for learning and create conditions for high student achievement.
Y.O.U.’s report says, “A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, services, supports and opportunities leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Schools become centers of the community, open to everyone, all day, every day, evenings and weekends.”
“At the core the idea is that in order to address the achievement gap, which all of us are committed to, we really have to address the opportunity gap,” said Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U., in his remarks to the Board last August. “District 65 has extraordinary schools and extraordinary teachers, but the kid’s ability to absorb that powerful education is very profoundly influenced by factors outside [the classroom]. Because there are traumas, health issues or challenges for a family, that kid is walking into the school door carrying those issues. … We have families in this community that come from very different means, and this is essentially a way to try to create the equal access and opportunity, which is a cornerstone of this District.”
There is no set model for community schools. They offer a wide range of supports and services, such as after-school learning programs; enrichment activities; physical, dental and mental health services; counseling services; adult education programs; housing and job assistance; and parent leadership development. Generally the services are provided through partnerships with community organizations. To make this work, it is essential to have a strong lead agency at each school that serves as the glue.
Ms. Carpenter said it is important that the school community determine its own goals based on “what it feels are its distinct needs,” rather than bringing in a set model for the community school. There is no preconceived plan.
Y.O.U. has provided an after-school program at District 65 schools since the 1990s. In its program, it provides academic assistance, enrichment activities, mentoring, and counseling services. Y.O.U. also reaches out to parents. Because Y.O.U.s program is holistic, United Way gave it a grant to pilot a community school model at Chute in the 2012-13 school year.
In the first year, Y.O.U. continued to offer its after-school program there, but in addition it partnered with a number of community organizations to provide a variety of additional services to children and their families. Y.O.U. also began to work with families to define the particular needs and goals of the community at Chute.
Paul Goren, superintendent of District 65, said, “We’ve got a wonderful pilot or initiative on community schools and really a fantastic opportunity to combine the educational processes that we’re doing in the schools with the broader social service community that serves our schools. We can build opportunity for families and young people and educators to think about the whole child and the whole family together. This is a movement going on around the country. We are on the cutting edge of this.”
Progress in 2013-14
The proposal that Y.O.U. submitted to the District 65 School Board in August 2013 said the goals in the first two years of the community school initiative are the following: 1) increase parent/family engagement in both school and community life and create parent leadership in community school decisions; 2) better align and coordinate existing school resources; and 3) create new partnerships, programs, and services that are responsive to community input and meet the needs of youth and families.
On June 2, Ms. Carpenter reported on the progress toward meeting those goals.
Parent Engagement and Leadership Development: Chute Community School (CCS) facilitated a 6-week parent leadership training program for 11 parents from Dawes, Oakton and Chute schools. The training program, provided by an organization called “Community Organizing and Family Issues” (COFI), trains parents on how to set personal goals, how to build a web of supports to achieve those goals, and how to translate that into building goals for the community and solutions to achieve those goals.
The Chute parent group, which calls themselves, “Parents on a Mission,” held a program at Chute attended by 40 parents last Friday to celebrate healthy eating and to promote nutritional meals at home. Ms. Carpenter said the group of parents will start knocking on doors in the community to do a needs assessment, asking what kind of programs families would like to see in the community.
“We would love to grow the parent leadership development,” said Ms. Carpenter. Next year, the parent group will take additional training offered by COFI on how they can train additional parents to develop leadership skills, so the model will be “self-sustaining.” The report says 56% of Parents on a Mission are African American, 22% Latino, 11% multi-racial and 11% white.
During the 2013-14 school year, Ms. Carpenter said, parents began participating in more programs at the school. CCS’s report says that 30% of parents involved in the Vision Clinic and more than 50% of parents involved in the Holiday Support Program participated in an additional program at the school.
Improved Alignment, Coordination: Chute has many partners and many after school programs, said Ms. Carpenter. More than 180 Chute students participate in after-school programming offered through Y.O.U., Afternoon Tech, or the Homework Club on any given day. “CSS has spent a lot of time bringing the partners together to think about what programs kids should be in and to make sure they get their needs met,” she said.
It is important to align the programs and to coordinate schedules “if we’re going to have a collective impact in the Chute community,” Ms. Carpenter said. Next year, she said, they would like to enhance the coordination of the after-school programs so that what they are doing is complementary.
CCS also created an “After School Planning Team” and facilitated the development of shared goals and discussion around consistent after-school protocol related to student behavior, snack policy, start and end times for programs and space utilization. The team also attempted to ensure that all students attending after-school programs are able to access the technology they need to complete their homework.
Expanding Programs at Chute: In the 2013-14 school year, CCS has continued with two programs it sponsored in partnership with other organizations in the 2012-13 school year: a vision clinic which provided on-site vision exams and follow up services (in most cases prescription eye glasses) for 49 Chute students; and holiday and food support for more than 160 adults and children.
New this year, CCS partnered with YWCA Evanston/North Shore to provide a series of three evening financial literacy workshops at the school for small groups of parents. Ms. Carpenter said 60% of the families who attended earned between $10,000 and $20,000 per year.
Next year, Ms. Carpenter said CCS would like to work with school social workers, psychologists and the PBIS team to determine “what other resources do we need to bring in and what does data show where we can use additional support.” She said Parents on a Mission want to bring more health resources into the school.
Board Reactions/Expanding Community Schools
Every School Board member present at the June 2 meeting expressed strong support for CCS. Claudia Garrison said, “It’s fabulous work.” Katie Bailey said, “There’s a placeholder in the budget,” to support the program.
Board members also asked about plans to expand the program. Ms. Carpenter said, “We’ve heard from many in the community and the schools [that], ‘we would like to see community schools grow.’”
She said a Leadership Council, currently composed of District 65, Y.O.U., McGaw Y and United Way, is in the process of being formed. She said the hope is to bring additional voices to the table. “Our goal in bringing the Leadership Council together is to ensure multiple stakeholders are involved in the decision” on how to expand the community school initiative and how to connect to other initiatives in the community.
The Leadership Council could assess the program at Chute and determine “what we can replicate and what to continue forward,” said Ms. Carpenter. She added that the council might also look at what other school districts are doing. Another aspect is to spend time looking at other initiatives in Evanston, such as the Evanston Cradle to Career initiative, and to determine how to connect with those initiatives.
“How can we use community schools to implement larger goals in our community?” asks Ms. Carpenter.
Suni Kartha suggested that the Board consider what policies it might adopt to facilitate expansion of community schools. Richard Rykhus suggested that the strategic planning process scheduled for the fall would be a natural time to consider community schools.
“In the short term,” Ms. Quattrocki asked, “What can the Board do?”
Ms. Carpenter responded that Jim McHolland, principal at Chute, teachers and staff at Chute, central administrators, and the Board were all providing tremendous support.