Education

What are ‘community schools?’ You can find out Tuesday

Three groups will soon convene for a discussion on community schools, a model that connects school districts to local families, nonprofits and health care providers.

Protect Our Public Schools Manasota is partnering with the League of United Latin American Citizens, along with the Peace Education and Action Center, to hold the discussion on Tuesday.

Their panel is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center, 525 Kumquat Court, in Sarasota.

Event planners drew inspiration from the Center for Popular Democracy, a member of the “Alliance to Reclaim our Schools.” Other members include the National Education Association and the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

The groups oppose private, for-profit charter schools and, naturally, Florida’s “turnaround” process. Schools that continually earn D’s and F’s from the state must form a plan and raise their grade to a C.

Otherwise, they face three options: close and transfer the students to a new school, convert to a charter school or place their school under the control of an “external operator.”

“This is an alternative to just opening a charter school and turning it all over, including some of the public funds, to these schools,” said Sandra Danu, a member of POPS Manasota.

Her organization highlighted Manatee’s recent school grades, which included 20 C’s and six D’s, and two district schools that are currently in the turnaround process.

Of the 26 schools referenced by POPS, 21 are public schools and five are charters. The majority are Title I schools that teach economically disadvantaged students and high minority populations.

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“While Manatee County Public School district has shown steady improvement in recent years, it has far too many struggling schools,” POPS sad in a publication on community schools.

In general, community schools incorporate “engaging, culturally relevant” instruction and health care services — physical, social and emotional — that are offered before, during and after school, according to the Center for Popular Democracy.

The organization, much like its counterparts, feels that standardized tests forced arts and athletics to the background in many of America’s schools.

“For at least a decade, the dominant idea about how to improve outcomes for children and youth has focused on control and compliance; holding adults accountable for raising test scores,” it states.

Such schools are also centered on the belief that suspensions or other “harsh punishments” should be replaced by restorative justice, an approach that emphasizes communication and mediation.

Communication should also extend to families, beyond parent-teacher conferences and meetings of the parent-teacher association, Popular Democracy said in its publication.

“This requires shifting the paradigm from parents as participants to parents as leaders and decision-makers who work hand-in-hand with school staff and community organizations to co-plan, co implement and co-monitor the school,” it states.

Carol Lerner, the head of POPS, said Manatee and Sarasota counties utilize features of a community school, but none have fully adopted the model.

But what about Manatee’s 13 charter schools?

The model could effect positive change in every corner of education, according to the Coalition for Community Schools.

“This includes regular public schools, charter schools, magnet schools and parochial schools and private schools, “ its websites states. “However, most existing community schools are public schools.”

The idea of a community school is decades old, but the University of Central Florida trademarked its own model — Community Partnership Schools.

In 2010, UCF signed a 25-year agreement with Children’s Home Society of Florida and Orange County Public Schools to implement a community-driven model.

The program now receives state funding. A recent allocation of $1.4 million will go toward the program’s 10 community schools, according to the UCF website.

“The objective is to meet the social, emotional, mental, physical, nutritional, and sometimes financial needs of students so they are ready and able to fully engage in the rigorous academic opportunities offered by their school,” the website states.

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