Monte Robinson spent the last few months helping school leaders figure out what their students need.
He leads the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Community Schools model. It’s a plan the board approved in July 2016 as an attempt to eliminate barriers to academic achievement. He expects the initiative will soon expand. A committee is making that recommendation to the school board in January.
Some educators describe the model as a way to bring the community back into schools. One person at each school is in charge of coordinating the service providers already working in the buildings. But Robinson’s main priority for site coordinators is to evaluate if those organizations are actually meeting the needs of students.
“Do you want to increase health services for students and families? Do you need more enrichment programs? Do you need more mentoring? You gather all of the data, you understand the need and what we’re doing is aligning partners in the building to the specific needs in the school,” he said.
Robinson is new to the job, but his vision for the model is similar to what that of the board that approved it. He wants schools to be a home away from home for students and families. If students need after-school programs and evening meals because their parents work late, he wants the school to provide that. He wants the school to be a space for the community and for teachers to know neighborhood residents.
So far, five schools have been designated “community schools.” Much of the work for the first year and a half, Robinson said, has been creating a plan of action and getting buy in.
“Do we have some work to do when it comes to that? Absolutely. But, I’m very excited about the opportunities we have in front of us to engage the community in the community schools work.”
There hasn’t been an outside evaluation of the model to determine if it’s working. The district contracted with the American Institute of Research to take a look at the implementation of the model and to weigh in on what the district should do next. Robinson said he’s also in the process of coming up with a five-year comprehensive plan for the community schools.
“This year is all about building infrastructure, building operating procedures and being agile with that. We understand that we’ll try some things that might not work out, but we’re here for continuous improvement,” he said.