March 27, 2023

Jeff Bryant: How LA’s teachers are making good on their promise to support community schools

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Jeff Bryant writes about how a portion of the settlement for the 2019 strike has resulted in gains for some LA schools.

The community schools approach seeks to strengthen the relationships between public schools and their surrounding communities by addressing the broader needs and interests of children and families and giving students, parents, and community members more of a voice in guiding school policies and programs.

In its account of the 2019 strikeReclaim Our Schools LA (ROSLA)—a coalition of community groups and the teachers’ union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA)—noted that one of the demands the teachers won in their contract negotiations was nearly $12 million in funding from the district for the development of community schools.

The demand grew out of an agreement among the groups that formed ROSLA in 2016 to make community schools a key part of the coalition’s organizing strategy. The strategy would include educating the general public on the concept of community schools and forcing district leadership “to take sides: were they for—or against—this research-supported school design?” as ROSLA’s case study of the 2019 strike explained. The strategy appears to have worked.

Bryant talked to David George, a convert to the community schools model who is now a community school coordinator.

George’s first few months as a community school coordinator were a bit of a baptism by fire. A mere 60 days after he started, the pandemic closed his school and sent students and teachers into a hastily contrived online learning mode. But he quickly learned how the philosophy of the approach helped the school address some of the pandemic’s most difficult challenges.

First, because one of the supporting pillars of the community schools strategy is “active family and community engagement,” George and his colleagues were already attuned to the need to reach out to families, and they had developed the beginnings of a system for doing that.

“We quickly found out which families had become disconnected from the school, which had become unhoused, and which needed to be told about the weekly food bank that the school had set up with the help of a local partner,” he said. “When we found out we had two students whose parents had been shot and killed, we had the capacity to find out what kind of mental health support they needed and how they could get it.”

George and his colleagues also rallied around another pillar of the community school’s approach: to develop partnerships in the community for integrating health care, nutrition, and other student supports with the academic program.

“We had success with a mobile dental clinic that came to the school. Now it’s going to come twice a year,” he said. “We had a vision company come and examine our students. Thirty percent had issues related to glasses. Half of the students who got new glasses had never worn glasses before. One student was legally blind in one eye, and his parents didn’t even know it.”

There are other encouraging success stories in this article about community schools done right. You can read the full article here. 

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