Getting reform right with community schools

November 04, 2013

As Dan Rodricks' recent column makes clear, we have a wonderful opportunity to help transform the city with the new $1.1 billion construction and renovation funding for Baltimore City's schools ("Using the schools as leverage," Oct. 31).

To do that, we should ensure that the dozens of new and rebuilt schools now being planned indeed become neighborhood hubs and true community schools.

Community schools bring in partner organizations to work with staff to provide additional programming and services for students and their families. This could include high-quality after-school activities, tutoring, health check-ups and mental health counseling or tax-preparation and financial counseling services for parents.

In Baltimore and around the country, support for the community schools concept continues to build, with such schools serving as anchors in disadvantaged areas of the city. In "The Role of Community Schools in Place-based Initiatives," author William R. Potapchuck emphasizes that "community schools offer a powerful vision and strategy for what schools should look like in broader place-based initiatives and how [these] schools can benefit from alignment with other efforts."

The Family League of Baltimore has refocused after-school funding in the city to embrace a full community school approach. This is a smarter use of resources and will encourage more community organizations to get involved.

Already, prominent local organizations have become strong partners for community schools. The University of Maryland School of Social Work, for example, is coordinating work at eight community schools, unleashing the power of the university to benefit students. For example, university dental students provide free on-site dental care at the schools.

On the east side, the Elev8 initiative has implemented a full-service community school model in three schools, providing comprehensive health services, wide-ranging after-school and summer activities and workforce training and other services for family members.

Our public schools are often stretched too thin to meet the complicated challenges facing many of our students — whether it's hunger, drug abuse or homelessness. Partners can help fill those gaps.

We have to re-imagine the traditional role of a school and make sure the physical space in our new buildings truly meets the needs of kids, educators and the community. Now is the time to get that right.

Jonathon Rondeau, Baltimore

The writer is president and chief executive of the Family League of Baltimore.

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