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Could 'Community Schools' Work in Pittsburgh?

Educators, administrators and parents from across the country are gathering in Cincinnati for the next three days to discover how to best coordinate support services for students and parents beyond the classroom.

About 30 Pittsburghers, including Board of Education members Carolyn Klug and Sylvia Wilson, the city’s chief education officer Curtiss Porter, teachers and representatives of Great Public Schools Pittsburgh are attending the Coalition for Community Schools' annual forum to “learn how they help the children succeed” according to Klug.

The Cincinnati Public School District, with its 33,000 students, is being showcased because of its Community Learning Centers, which serve as hubs for services for students and families. 

The idea for the CLCs started in the early 2000s. 

“We had dilapidated buildings and we wanted to renovate and remodel the buildings,” said Julie Doppler, CLC coordinator. “We wanted support from our tax base, our community, our families.  So the idea of creating schools as centers of our community was popular, and we could engage the community around those discussions.” And subsequently public support grew for tax to pay for the new buildings.

By 2006 there were nine CLCs in Cincinnati; today 36 of the 55 schools are service hubs. She said their approach is different from the traditional notion of wraparound services for students because the programs were selected at the neighborhood level.

“For example, at a school where there was not a health clinic in that neighborhood that was accessible to families and students we could put one in that school. We have different services in each building and that was uniquely chosen by that community.” Doppler said. 

Those offerings range from mental health services to afterschool programs to meals to community garden on the roof of a school.

According to Doppler, there are no fees for families for the services because the Cincinnati School District has 600 partners, and by leveraging dollars from the United Way and other grants, the district isn’t spending “education dollars to provide services.”

“In Pittsburgh we have a lot of services, we have a lot of partnerships with people who provide services,” Klug said. “But if you have a community school I think that cuts down or hopefully cuts down on a lot of red tape and a lot bouncing from here to there to get what the family needs.”

Klug believes the community school concept could be incorporated into the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ envisioning process for the future. 

“I think this community model with what the (Pittsburgh) district is trying to obtain,” she said.

Doppler said a preliminary study of the data shows there is great promise that the CLCs will heighten student achievement.  

“It’s always about the collective impact, because a good teacher in a classroom, plus an afterschool program, plus good health, plus all of those good things leads to academic success,” she said.

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