Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced the expansion of its Community Schools model, which provides a holistic approach to regular public school education in poorer neighborhoods that integrates academics with health and mental health services, youth development, expanded learning opportunities, and increased family support.
The expansion of 69 new Community Schools bring the total number of such schools citywide to 215. The new community schools are funded through the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21CCLC) grants, which awarded $25.5 million per year for up to five years.
“Equity and Excellence is about evening the playing field for our students, and Community Schools help to do just that,” said de Blasio in making the announcement at I.S. 155, the Nicholas Herkimer School, 1355 Herkimer Street in East New York. “To reach success in their classes, our students often require some extra support outside the classroom. This expansion allows us to provide additional after school activities, mental health counseling, enhanced family engagement, and so much more.”
The core structure of a Community School includes a defined community partnership with a community-based organization (CBO), a dedicated Community School Director, shared leadership and accountability and enhanced data tracking to preemptively address challenges like absenteeism.
Based on the local need, and availability of additional resources, Community Schools may also offer a range of services, including School-Based Health Centers, vision screenings, food pantries and adult education courses.
This citywide expansion includes 25 CBO partners at the 69 schools. CBOs were selected by schools, based on proven experience working in the community, demonstrated capacity to coordinate partners and deliver comprehensive services through a dedicated on-site Community School Director.
But critics of the model point out while these programs are often popular with advocates, and already in use around the country for many decades, including in New York City, their performance has often been viewed as uneven.
An analysis by The New York Times found that some of the community schools in Cincinnati, which is viewed as a leader in the approach, still showed dismal academic performances even after years of work and millions of dollars of investments.
Charter school advocacy groups were quick to criticize the expansion calling it yet another de Blasio Administration give back to the United Federation of Teacher (UFT) union and favored CBOs at the expense of increasing the number of charter schools.
“Thanks to Mayor de Blasio and his friends at the UFT, there are now roughly an equal number of students in community schools as there are in public charter schools. But the results for kids couldn’t be further apart – public charter students are twice as likely to read and do math on grade level,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of Families for Excellent Schools (FES).
According to a FES press statement in 2015-16 only 13 percent of students scored at grade level in math or reading schools in existing community school while at public charter schools, 46.0 percent of students scored at grade level in math or reading.
“If Mayor de Blasio truly cared about equity for the city’s neediest children, we would be reading about a different type of school expansion today,” said Kiiredge.
But UFT President Michael Mulgrew called the model a critical step in dealing with obstacles in education.
“Teachers know that educating a child requires addressing the challenges they face both in and out of the classroom,” said Mulgrew. “We applaud the administration for expanding an initiative that benefits children, communities, and schools.”
The expansion of Community Schools also drew the praise of several Brooklyn lawmakers.
“Education extends beyond the classroom, to a student’s experiences throughout the year,” said Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-Crown Heights, Flatbush, East Flatbush, Brownsville, Sheepshead Bay. “By expanding the Community Schools Initiative, Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and Deputy Mayor Richard Buery are supporting the development of partnerships with community organizations that will result in additional learning opportunities and positive experiences.”
“I welcome the investment of resources in education announced today. The announcement of 69 additional community schools will be greeted by excitement and enthusiasm throughout the neighborhoods I represent and across our City. Making the right investments in our City’s young people is a surefire strategy for long-term success,” said State Senator Jesse Hamilton (D-Central Brooklyn).
“Community schools provide critical resources for students and their families in high-need districts,” said Assembly Member Pamela Harris (D-Coney Island, Bay Ridge, Dykwer Heights). “The expansion of this program, which will transform J.H.S. 259 William McKinley into a community school, will benefit our kids and strengthen our neighborhoods. In the Assembly, I’ll continue fighting for increased school funding because our children deserve a quality education that reflects their needs and prepares them for future successes.”