Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education has taken a giant leap forward in its efforts to implement a district-wide community schools strategy.
You could call them super schools. They reach beyond the classroom to serve families and their neighborhoods.
This innovative, full-service approach to education focuses on academics, family support, health and social services, plus coordination of services and resources for students, their families, and surrounding communities.
The first community schools for the 2017-17 school year include Westinghouse 6-12 and Faison K-5 in Homewood, Lincoln preK-5 in Larimer, Arsenal 6-8 in Lawrenceville and Langley K-8 in the West End. Additional schools will be named later.
Superintendent Anthony Hamlet had experience with the community schools concept at a Florida school district.
“I’m excited as teachers and administrators see the unique benefits and worth of community schools,” he says.
To research the idea, a team of Pittsburgh educators visited schools in Oakland, CA, where a successful community schools plan is in effect. They looked at other districts, too, including Cincinnati and Philadelphia, where the initiative is working.
“They are part of a national trend among schools across the country,” says Errika Fearby Jones, executive director of internal and external affairs in the superintendent’s office.
The model is designed to enhance the connection between schools and neighborhoods by addressing outside barriers to learning, which impact students’ day-to-day lives and impede their academic progress, says LouAnn Ross, community schools coordinator..
Those improvements — ranging from health care services to learning opportunities for parents — can lead to a multitude of benefits, she says, including more family engagement, better school attendance and higher graduation rates for students.
“In schools across the nation, teachers say they are much freer to teach,” Ross says.
The first step toward achieving the new initiative will be to conduct a needs-based assessment beginning this fall to determine each school’s assets and liabilities.
All traditional schools in the district eventually will incorporate the concept.
The school board previously approved several actions to help schools meet students’ needs beyond the classroom. They include increased nursing support on every campus, positive behavior supports in every school, expansion of restorative practices, improved library, and adding four regional attendance assistants.
“Community schools recognize that children and their families are integral parts of their communities,” Ross says. “Our goal is to provide comprehensive support for all students, and a base for transformative parental engagement on behalf of children and schools.”
The challenges faced by many students in Pittsburgh schools “do not stay at home,” says Board President Dr. Regina Holley.
By adopting the community schools initiative, she says, “we will unpack those challenges to meet the holistic needs of students.”