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Pittsburgh School Board Considers Making Some Schools Social Service Hubs

Pittsburgh Public Schools board members will decide Wednesday if the district will move forward with a plan to provide social services to students and the communities it serves.

It would follow the community schools model which provides students with equitable access to programs and services like medical care, psychological services, access to a food bank, English as a second language training or work education programs, all in a familiar building: a public school. 

Board members have tossed around the idea for years and in the past, visited other districts that have implemented the program, as it becomes more popular across the country.

Almost 20 community members spoke in favor of the policy at the board’s monthly public hearing on Monday.

Kipp Dawson, a teacher at Colfax Elementary School said she constantly thinks of the students who would benefit from a community schools program. She said she follows the news daily, with the fear of hearing a tragedy befall one of those students.  

“And for each one we wonder, had we the services and supports that community schools can offer our children, and our families, would this one, this person who came to us still in formation, would he or she still be OK?” Dawson said.

Dawson added that providing those services in a familiar location would offer a better chance of success for the students.  

Board member Cynthia Falls said she supports the community schools idea, but raised concerns over whether the district can afford it.

“This is a big undertaking that we have committed to,” she said.

It would mean hiring site directors and paying for a survey determining which services the community would need. The Philadelphia School District passed a similar measure this year and selected nine schools as hubs for services. Officials in Philadelphia’s district said the plan will cost $4 million the first year.

Board member Terry Kennedy also supports the idea but said the policy, as written, could be an “open checkbook.”

“Do (taxpayers) want the money going into the classrooms or into making it convenient for various services to be provided in the community?” she said.

But advocates said it’s about more than just opening the space outside of regular school hours. Board member Moira Kaleida said an upfront investment is worth helping students.

“We’ll see more student success which will inevitably lead to the chain of drawing more students in,” she said. “And providing more services will lead to people wanting to come to Pittsburgh Public, to knowing we’re a first-class district.”

Other advocates, including members of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network who gave input during the policy writing process, said it could also reduce the achievement gap.

Kaleida said financial commitments will be determined once the policy is approved.

The administrative legislation portion of the policy has yet to be written, but will outline the qualifications for becoming a community school. Only some district schools will become community school, serving as “hubs.” The administrative office would assist an interested school by hiring a site coordinator.