How the community school approach leverages all local improvement efforts

slate_for_school.jpgInformational town halls on school funding improvements are under way around the state, with one in Prince George's County's Laurel High School set for tomorrow night (Thursday, Oct. 10). Only a coordinated and fully-funded approach can lift schools and communities together.



 

/PM BlogSpace Report/ Building on the momentum of the final Kirwan commission report and Assembly down payment, the move for full funding of our state’s K-12 schools is being augmented by informational town halls around the state. The Coalition for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Schools is presenting them, in collaboration with county-level chapters of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS). An AROS town hall for Prince George’s County comes up tomorrow night (Thursday, Oct. 10) at Laurel HS and three more are scheduled for that county. Other informational events come up soon in Howard County Oct. 16; Anne Arundel County Oct. 22 and 29; Baltimore City Oct. 24 and Baltimore County, also Oct. 24; Garrett County Oct. 28 and Frederick and Harford counties both on Oct. 29; a currently updated list is here.

 The Maryland League of Women Voters appealed just this week for participation in the outreach process and the agitation and pressure needed for state and local officials to take the strong action needed to keep our schools top-line.

“We have the blueprint for how to make Maryland schools world-class, now we need legislators to fix the decades-old school funding formula and ensure adequate and equitable funding for every student in every neighborhood,” the LWV-MD wrote. 

“We’re fighting for all students by demanding legislation in 2020 to increase investments in career technical education, pre-kindergarten, early interventions for struggling learners, educator pay, students in communities with concentrated poverty, English language learner supports, and special education programs and services.” 

The Kirwan commission showed, dismayingly, that the Maryland K-12 schools that we have felt were leaders in the US were in fact just so-so – middle of the pack in the US, which in turn is middle of the pack in the increasingly competitive sphere of worldwide schools. Why? For one thing, the state is also only a “middling” place to be a teacher, in a national survey, in part because of teacher compensation. What are some other reasons?

We know, just from looking around, that schools and their communities operate in a symbiotic relationship – better schools reflect thriving communities, and communities that are stressed and neglected by local and state government and policy decisions have a reflection in their schools. In many schools, students struggle because they live in struggling communities. They are the canaries that show by their struggles to breathe free that many of our communities are still under water.

That’s why the concept of community schools will be so important in local jurisdictions where pockets of struggle and stress persist. A coordinated effort to rally school and community together for change and improvement makes local resources go further in bringing school and community up in tandem.

Howard County, for instance, is buzzing with controversy because one solution – taking steps to desegregate schools not only by race but by poverty and class – is being proposed. It’s got the top schools in the state, and families whose schools have been successful worry that a change in student populations will disadvantage their students. One community member wrote, speaking as a professional child and adolescent psychiatrist, that “the most basic needs, such as food, water, safety and security needs must be satisfied before an individual can attend to needs higher up, such as prestige, feeling of accomplishment, creativity, etc.

"Children who have secure housing, plenty of food in the refrigerator and several books at home will always have a titanic advantage over children who have unstable housing, food insecurity and an iota of books on their shelves.  Kids in low-income communities face significantly more adverse experiences than children from a higher socioeconomic status," the writer said.

The opinion article in Maryland Reporter suggested that it would be counterproductive to send such students to more successful schools without remedying the community conditions that put them at risk. Though a bit of victim-blaming shows through in the writer’s inclusion of “abuse and neglect” as characteristic of adverse childhood experiences, the ground truth of the article is that the state’s best schools, in Howard, still had pockets of community stress like every other jurisdiction in the state – the only difference perhaps being in the scale or proportion of such communities in the county as a whole.

The Howard example shows why the exceptional still masks masks the everyday – the disadvantages of the community, in any jurisdiction, can only be remedied so far by changes within the school building. That’s why the community school concept is so important, and why local governments should recognize that the coordinated and comprehensive approach of community improvement and school improvement in tandem can multiply resources for providing a better life for all in those counties, and the sought-after more attractive environment for new businesses and new residents.