Blurring the Line Between Schools and Communities

When does a school’s responsibility to its students end?

If you said never, you’re smarter than you think.

As the line between schools and communities continues to blur, educators increasingly find their talents in demand beyond the bell—as coaches, tutors, counselors, role models and more.

This is especially true in the nation’s poorest communities, where students often look to teachers for positive influences sometimes in short supply at home.

But is it possible for schools to reach too far? Should there be a brighter line between the classroom and home?  Or, are the interests and responsibilities of communities and schools so intermingled that societal rules no longer discern the two?

Tom Hagley, chief of staff at Vancouver Public Schools in Washington, attacks such questions this way: “Yes, there may be some who question, ‘Are public schools getting outside of their area of responsibility?’ But this is about building a stronger community. So I absolutely think it is the responsibility of this public education system to work together to build neighborhood assets and revitalize our communities.”

Hagley and Vancouver’s Superintendent, Steve Webb, were recently named among Education Week’s Leaders to Learn From, due in large part to the work they’ve done to bring schools and communities closer together.

The “opportunity zone” that the two school leaders developed as part of the district’s flourishing community schools initiative led to the creation of community resource centers, which provide a range of academic and nonacademic services for poor families. Rather than offer a prescribed list of services at each center, the district let the community determine the services students and parents would most benefit from.

Today the district, which has 53 percent of its student population on free-and-reduced price lunch, offers community centers in 16 schools as well as a mobile center that moves to different locations.

Like other community schools across the country, Vancouver’s centers provide everything from food pantries, to literacy classes, to health and dental services, even housing placement.

The results have been nothing short of remarkable. District officials report higher graduation rates and increased parent involvement at school. For his part, Webb was recently named one of four finalists for this year’s Superintendent of the Year award.

Putting it all together
While myriad factors contribute to the success of any community schools program, EdWeek’s recent profile shines a light on one element absolutely essential to Vancouver’s recent success: stakeholder buy in.

By engaging individual schools and the different communities served by each, Hagely and Webb were able to effectively determine the specific resources needed at each community center.

The line between schools and communities is blurring. But, as Vancouver’s example shows, that isn’t a bad thing. It’s truly amazing what schools and communities can do when they work together.

Watch more on Vancouver’s “opportunity zone” in the short video below.

Looking for a better way to meet the diverse needs of your different community groups? Start a conversation with parents and students today.

Author: Todd Kominiak

Todd Kominiak is Managing Editor of TrustED.

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