It Takes a Community

A lot of the talk in education reform focuses on teacher quality as the key factor to influence in order to impact student achievement.  While teacher quality is important, and other school-based factors also play a role, it is also important to realize that 50% of the factors that determine whether or not a child is successful in school come from OUTSIDE of school.  Family, neighborhood, trauma, health, etc.  All of those play a role in student success.

So, yes, schools and school systems should focus on factors they can control.  I’ve even written about my own ideas on this topic.

But, it also makes sense for schools to build partnerships with organizations and programs that can have a positive impact on the outside of school factors in student achievement.

To that end, I gladly accepted an invitation recently to tour Kirkpatrick Enhanced Option School and hear more about a fairly new (to Nashville) organization called Communities in Schools.

CIS operates in 3 elementary schools (Kirkpatrick, Warner, Ross) and just added a Site Coordinator at Bailey Middle School.

Fortunately for Nashville, the national CIS organization has been around for 35 years and has lots of data on what works (and what doesn’t).

As its name suggests, Communities in Schools seeks to build a community around students in some of the most challenging (economically) schools in the district.  Because they know that outside factors influence kids, they are set up to address those factors.  The Site Coordinators are typically trained Social Workers who understand the importance of connecting students and their families with services available.

For example, at Ross Elementary at the end of the 2012-13 school year, there were 12 students who had received vision screenings and needed glasses but still didn’t have them.  CIS staff worked with a local eye clinic to arrange appointments and help those students get the eyewear they needed.  No amount of focus on teacher quality will help if the kids in your class can’t see because they need glasses they don’t have.

CIS is a data-driven organization that sets goals for the students in the schools it serves and then achieves those goals.  Yes, they met 25 of 27 performance objectives they set in 2012-13.  Items like improving academics and attendance for the students they served.

CIS works in partnership with the schools to set up support services for students and for families.  One of the areas where they focus attention is on parent involvement in schools – and at the three sites where they have been working, parental involvement has increased significantly.

Another area of focus is attendance.  If a student isn’t at school, they simply aren’t going to learn.  And they are going to fall behind.  By introducing strategies to promote attendance, CIS has been able to impact and improve attendance (and mitigate chronic absenteeism) at the schools it serves.

I walked away from an hour at Kirkpatrick impressed with the dedication and commitment of CIS staff to the success of the students at the schools they serve.  The ability to connect families to resources and to help children meet their specific needs lifts a burden from teachers and school staff and strengthens the school community.

It truly takes a community to make a school work.  CIS-TN is making that happen in a small corner of Nashville.  It’s a success story that deserves to be continued and expanded.

6 thoughts on “It Takes a Community

  1. Pingback: It Takes a Community | Communities in Schools Tennessee CISTN

  2. I was curious – where does the 50% figure come from. Is it not 60%? 40%? 75%? 57.8%?

    Interesting that CIS is a very data driven organization…I thought we were supposed to be really suspect of data and what it can tell us about student learning and progress?

    What your post doesn’t mention is that Martha O’Bryan, a non-profit organization that has served impoverished East Nashville residents for a long time (and done it well), was the driving force to get CIS in Nashville.

    Martha O’Bryan has also been the driving force to establish East End Prep (K-4 charter school) and the recently approved Explore Community School (K-8 charter school).

    Hmm…why is that?

    Very few would disagree with the premise that children living in poverty need very good social services wrapped around a rigorous learning environment.

    MNPS currently operates family resource centers, has a myriad of partnerships & contracts across the district (United Way, Centerstone, etc)…has cluster based family engagement staff members…the point is they get state, local and federal funding to deploy a number of social services (in addition to their charge of giving children in poverty a high quality education).

    It’s not as if MNPS isn’t into social service provision…they spend a fair sum on it each year, and they have been for a while, but is it effective?

    It’s very fair to ask the question regarding the effectiveness of how an organization delivers robust social services and a high quality education…if that’s what they’re charged with doing.

    If Martha O’Bryan can serve children successfully with strong social services and a high quality education for $9200 per student at East End Prep, and they do it far more effectively than $15,000 a student at Kirkpatrick…why are those that keep insisting on Kirkpatrick as the only way?

    You talk about the low spending in Tennessee on education, what about the ineffective spending on public education in Tennessee?

    Giving the spending disparities on what works and what doesn’t, you’ll be able to fund higher teacher salaries, all sorts of things by creating a system of schools that yields much more efficient outcomes for the limited scarce resources that are out there.

    I haven’t found any money trees in Nashville…but I’m still looking.

    If more spending is the route to go…I certainly have my doubts that a large infusion of more cash in public education, given to the same operators that have been at it for decades, will lead to any different results.

    What proof or likelihood is there that if MNPS gets x more dollars that they’ll REALLY be able to improve education delivery and social service provision to Nashville’s children?

    So we could allocate scarce resources to that expensive maybe, or allocate scarce resources to proven vehicles.

    • Hunter,
      That’s a pretty angry and biting response to a post about a program operating inside Metro Schools that is working. And note, no where did I critique East End Prep (who had someone at the same tour) or suggest that Charter Schools weren’t an appropriate option for kids and families. No matter the educational delivery mechanism, wrap around support is very important — a point you and Informed Educator both support.

      I’d be more than happy to hear more about Community Achieves — how it is working and what it is doing to improve the lives (and educational outcomes) of kids in MNPS.

      Hunter raises a fair point RE: effective use of dollars (and his reply seems to suggest he knows EXACTLY how best to use those dollars — so, I’m hoping he’ll tell us). To that end, though, certainly it IS fair to ask: is a program or investment working? That’s fair to ask about Community Achieves, Martha O’Bryan (which did bring CIS to Nashville and so apparently sees its value), and Communities in Schools. The evidence, in the case of CIS, seems to suggest a program that gets results.

      • Andy-
        I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that was angry and biting. Detecting tone in written communication is oh so ever hard to do.

        Sarcastic at some points, yes, but not angry and biting. I suggest we go get some coffee at some point so you can at least have an informed opinion of responses re: my personality and what I really think about all this political-ed madness.

        For example, I could suggest that your response to my response included unnecessary shouting in CAPITAL letters a la Perez Hilton & Lady Gaga twitter war style…but I don’t think that because I don’t know you and your personality, nor can I detect shouting from written words.

        I was trying to make a legitimate point about considering the effectiveness of dollars in the system currently being spent…but you seemed to mock that idea a bit.

        So to be clear, in my reply, I never boasted about having the effective use of dollars answers…but yes, I’m going to continue to believe that’s a really critical piece of the ed policy conversation.

        Given previous communications by you and your team, I can’t help but not believe you when you write “no where did I… suggest that Charter Schools weren’t an appropriate option for kids and families”

        Might just be me. I would like to grab coffee with you sometime if you are up for it…do you live in Nashville?

        • I’d of course be delighted to get coffee. I work in Nashville, yes.

          That said, I have (in many of your responses) agreed with you to a point.

          Perhaps I mistook your sarcasm for anger?

          Given the article at hand, it’s difficult (impossible?) to draw the conclusion that I’m suggesting that Charter Schools are bad or not an appropriate option. While I certainly suggest caution when it comes to charter schools, I also realize they can be a piece of the puzzle.

          As John has suggested, I believe most of us who write/talk/study ed policy have good intentions and go into wanting what’s best for kids. That it is, we have more in common than sometimes our arguments let on — perhaps because what’s at stake is so very important.

          All to say, sure, let’s get coffee.

  3. Hunter, you appear to be a very informed tax payer. Your comments are very accurate. MNPS invest a great deal in parent and communtiy outreach and recently launched their city wide initiative “Community Achieves”. This partnership serves as the bridge between the school district, the support services department (which currently manages the cluster support teams), and the broader Nashville Community. To date, the Community Achieves work has resulted in 19 schools working to become full service community schools, and the development of several support programs in schools and across the city. While most be may not be aware; Parent University, Bringing Justice to All, Family Suppers, Before and After School Programs, Health Initiatives, and the Financial Empowerment Centers are all part of the larger work of Community Achieves. Major organizations such as the United Way, YMCA, Metro Social Services, and the Metro Health Department are already partners in the Community Achieves model.

    I would encourage the reporter to reach out to the Chief Support Services Officer of MNPS to learn more about Community Achieves and the work that is currently being done in the district. Most people don’t know the great deal of time, energy, and resources that are invested in our children and their families on a daily basis in the areas of social and emotional support and family services.

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