The new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), empowers states and district leaders to rethink strategies to support all students and position communities—including parents—as key partners in that effort.
The Coalition for Community Schools recently released a framework that highlights strategies for how schools can engage the community and how community schools can support new provisions of ESSA that create the opportunity to ensure equitable access to high-quality education and a healthy school environment. The Coalition for Community Schools defines a community school as a “public school—the hub of its neighborhood, uniting educators, community partners, and families to provide all students with top-quality academics, enrichment, health and social services, and opportunities to learn and thrive.”
For example, states are required to report on chronic absenteeism, rates of suspensions, rates of expulsions, school-related arrests and bullying. The community schools model includes strategies proven to address these issues, including integrating health and social supports into the school setting, ensuring strong family and community engagement, supporting data-driven planning and ensuring students and families are connected to school and community resources.
The brief features the inspiring story of Tonti Elementary in Chicago, which has implemented many of those proven strategies. Five years ago, Tonti was at the lowest level of the district’s school quality rating system and was on academic probation. The school joined the Community Schools Initiative, and the improvement has been amazing. Tonti has now earned the second highest rating and has an average daily attendance of 96 percent.
The school accomplished by focusing on being a true community school, a gathering place for students, parents and the community. “Parents feel that they are not just dropping off their children,” Principal Gerardo Arriaga said.
Tonti also partnered with Metropolitan Family Services to provide counseling and social services to students and their families. A full-time resource coordinator, who works for Metropolitan Family Services, works in the school to connect students and families to resources they need. Arriaga said there are now very few discipline problems. “We feel our whole school climate has been transformed,” he said.
The story of Tonti Elementary underscores the value of the community schools model and role this model can play in ensuring ESSA is implemented in a way that supports the whole child. The recommendations in this framework align closely with the Framework for Action developed by Healthy Schools Campaign and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The framework includes recommendations for supporting student health and school wellness through ESSA and underscores the importance of working with the community, including local health providers and public health agencies, to create healthier school environments.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Coalition for Community Schools framework, they’re hosting a webinar on April 12 at 2 p.m. that will take a deep dive into this new resource.