slate_for_school.jpgTomorrow’s Prince George’s Civic Academy tackles the challenge and promise of community schools in the Kirwan proposals. Keeping those proposals fresh and defending them against the business-as-usual impulses of political leadership has to happen at the community level.


/By Woody Woodruff<>PM BlogSpace Report/ Tomorrow (Thursday, Aug. 1) the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools in Prince George’s County (AROS-PG) leads a Civic Academy to develop community guidelines specific to Prince George’s on school improvement under the Kirwan Commission plan – which includes Community Schools, as they are called.

What is a community school? How will it impact next school year? How is it different from our current schools? Come out to our next civic academy Thursday, August 1st at 5:00 pm with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools Prince George's County and PGCEA and learn everything that you need to know about community schools. Light dinner provided.  RSVP HERE. Learn more about the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools at

Progressive Prince George’s is active in coalition with the Prince George’s County Educators Association to make sure communities and parents are fully engaged in this work. Community schools are on the agenda for many districts, including Montgomery County, where Progressive Montgomery is similarly engaged.

Community schools, a frequently discussed strategy for school systems improvement, are on the radar nationwide and probably best known with the shorthand “wraparound services.” One of the most detailed of the Kirwan Commission’s five policy pillars is the fourth: “[P]olicy recommendations [are] grouped into five policy areas:  (1) early childhood education; (2) high-quality teachers and leaders; (3) college and career readiness pathways, including career and technical education; (4) more resources to ensure all students are successful; and (5) governance and accountability.

The Learning Policy Institute’s 2017 study, Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy For Equitable School Improvement, slate_for_school.jpgtests the strategies used by proponents of community schools. The brief’s summary defines them: “Community schools represent a place-based school improvement strategy in which ‘schools partner with community agencies and local government to provide an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement.’ ”

The study continues that “four features—or pillars—appear in most community schools: 1) Integrated student supports; 2) Expanded learning time and opportunities; 3) Family and community engagement; 4) Collaborative leadership and practices.” The study said evidence shows “…all four pillars— integrated student supports, expanded learning time and opportunities, family and community engagement, and collaborative leadership and practices—matter; moreover, they appear to reinforce each other.”

Dr. Reuben Jacobson, of the American University education department, recently co-edited a book on community schools. He wrote of their surprisingly deep history: “For more than 100 years community schools have been centers of their communities…. And there are many schools that operate as community schools but don’t describe themselves that way. They are simply doing the work.”

jane_addams_john_dewey.jpgThey go back to the Progressive Era of the turn of the 20th Century – John Dewey, Jane Addams and the multiservice concept pioneered in Addams’s Settlement House examples. [from left: John Dewey, Jane Addams]

Dr. Jeannie Oakes, a co-author of the Learning Policy Institute study, said in an introduction to the book co-edited by Jacobson and JoAnne Ferrara: “the most comprehensive community schools today seek to be social centers where families come together to strengthen neighborhoods and civil society more generally, as well as educate students well.” But “successful community schools do not all look alike…. They leverage local assets and people to meet local needs, and they modify programming over time in response to changes in the school and community.”

The Kirwan Commission – “Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education,” surveyed best practices not only among schools in the US but around the world, systems with which US schools are unfavorably compared with increasing regularity.  “…from the beginning of its work, the Commission placed special focus on addressing the needs of students who are being left behind by the current education system. The Commission is recommending that more resources –staffing, funding, attention –be directed to the students who need it the most. Data shows that the State has made little progress in addressing their needs. The problem is not the students. The problem is the system, meaning the school system and the system of social, health, and income supports outside the school. [emphasis added]

As the Learning Policy Center reports unsurprisingly, community poverty is the biggest factor in school decline. “More than half of the nation’s school children—approximately 25 million—live in low-income households, the highest proportion since this statistic became available.”

The Kirwan Commission proposes funding two additional professionals (school coordinator and health service specialist) for schools with 80% or more concentration of poverty.

“A per pupil amount was determined that would provide the services that a community school would provide. This amount was then linearly plotted such that it increased from $0 for schools with 55% poverty to $3,265 for schools with at least 80% poverty.” [pdf page 119]

 “Add a concentrated poverty weight to the funding formula to support intensive services, for students and their families to enable them to succeed in school, that are coordinated and able to meet the additional needs of students in schools located in distressed communities. Add fixed, categorical funding amounts for each school with concentrated poverty to be used to (1) establish or enhance community schools and (2) establish or enhance school health and behavioral services.” [pdf page 108; emphasis added]

Readers with long memories will recall that county schools Superintendent Jerome Clark (1995-99) began a program to extend hours and services at some Prince George’s schools, making them in effect community centers where parents were invited to attend skill-building sessions in the evening and extended services – public health and information access – were provided. Clark’s initiatives evaporated when he left his job under pressure, beginning a series of contentious and brief episodes of leadership (Iris Metts, Andre Hornsby) punctuated by the 2002 abolition and replacement of the county Board of Education. Alvin Thornton, current chair of the county school board, was also chair during Clark’s tenure and went on to chair the first attempt to create a statewide equity framework to bring the less-affluent school districts up to parity with the more affluent districts. The Thornton funding plan collapsed during the Great Recession of 2008-10 and the Kirwan proposals now attempt to recover from that legislative failure.

Tomorrow’s Prince George’s Civic Academy is one of many such pop-up responses to the challenge that the Kirwan proposals present. Keeping those proposals fresh and defending them against the business-as-usual impulses of political leadership has to happen at the community level.

woody woodruff


M.A. and Ph.d. from University of Maryland Merrill College of Journalism, would-be radical, sci-fi fan... retired to a life of keyboard radicalism...