School District 65 needs a strong community partner to take the lead role on its community schools initiative, or it needs to consider another way to provide some community services at the schools.

Youth and Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) began piloting a community school at Chute Middle School in the 2012-2013 school year, and it subsequently expanded the model to King Arts Magnet School and Oakton Elementary School with the support of District 65. Y.O.U. decided to discontinue its role as the lead partner of the community schools in April 2018.

There is no set model for community schools. They may offer a wide range of supports and services, such as after-school learning programs; enrichment activities; sports activities; counseling services; physical, dental and mental health services; legal services; adult education programs; and housing and job assistance. Generally the services are provided through partnerships with community organizations, making the school a hub in the community.

“Transforming schools into community hubs is not the traditional model for education, however, it is one that is gaining traction as a key strategy to close achievement/opportunity gaps and increase student well-being,” said Joaquin Stephenson, Director of Equity and Family/Community Engagement, and Rosa Sriver, Community Schools Resource Coordinator for the District  in a memo to the Board.

To make this work, some research says it is essential to have a strong lead agency at each school that serves as the glue.

While the program services provided at Chute, King Arts and Oakton have changed over the years, Ms. Sriver said the schools are currently offering the following services:

• Under the College Mentor for Kids program, Northwestern University students provide mentoring on Northwestern’s campus to about 30 Oakton students.

• Girls on the Run promotes positive emotional, social, mental and physical development in young girls through fitness and building healthy habits.

• The Family Institute provides parent and teacher workshops, conflict resolution for groups of students and families, and support services at Oakton.  

• The Moran Center’s Legal Clinic assisted 50 families with legal services including family law services, housing and immigration issues in the 2017-2018 school year.

• Metropolitan Family Services provided case management services to seven families at Oakton in the 2017-2018 school year.

• The Healthy Kids Market distributed almost 500 boxes of healthy and fresh food to Chute families in the 2017-2018 school year, and about half as many so far this school year.

Y.O.U continues to provide a holistic after-school program at Chute, King Arts, Oakton and several other District 65 schools.

In a memo to the Board, Mr. Stephenson and Ms. Sriver say the District would like to continue this work with the support of community organizations, to expand the number of community partners providing services at the schools, and to fully implement a community school model at all three schools.

Mr. Stephenson said, though, that for the District to have a true community model, it would need to have a major lead partner, such as the McGaw YMCA or the Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative. He said that some models suggest that each community school have a community school coordinator.

Board Comments

Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti said, “All of these are wonderful opportunities for children and families, but the question that I have is how is it aligned with our strategic priorities?”

Superintendent Paul Goren said, “From where I sit, there’s a significant alignment with the types of services that we’re trying to provide through the model we have and our equity agenda, and around engaging the community and families in our schools, and making the schools a more welcoming place and providing services that many people in the community have access to, but some do not.

“So there’s a broad strategic reason to move forward. We have to find the right partners to be able to scale this up.”

Kim Kelly, Grant Manager Curriculum and Instruction Department, said, even though Y.O.U was doing the community school model for a number of years, “I would say they didn’t leave a big footprint for the work when they ended, which has been one of our challenges.”

She added that there really needs to be someone on site, there needs to be a designated resource coordinator at the schools. “I know that principals want to do that, but the truth is they just don’t have the space on their plates.”

Ms. Tanyavutti said she was “passionate” about the community school model, but added, “I don’t know that we’ve provided the resources and supports necessary and the leadership and vision that’s necessary for us to carry out on that promise.”

Board member Sergio Hernandez said, “We need to align the work with our larger equity vision.”

Board President Suni Kartha said, “There’s a lot of belief in the model. There’s a lot of examples. When done with fidelity, it can really transform a school and a community in a positive way and in a way that is aligned with our larger equity vision.”

“But I do have concerns about the fidelity with which we are aligning the model.

“It seems like we are at a decision point about how are we to move forward.” She said there are programs that the District would like to keep, regardless of what it is called – a community school or wrap-around-services.

She said, though, before deciding on how to move forward, the Board needed to have clarity on whether an outside organization would commit to serve as the lead partner. She added that the Board needed to be clear on what the goals were for the community school model.

 “Once I think we have these in place, it might be easier to figure out if this is something we move forward, or do we pivot it in other ways and maybe implement programs in other schools without calling this a community school.”

Dr. Goren, “These are important services. The question is can we sustain this with a lead partner, and if not how else can we do this really important work?”

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...