NEW YORK— With a roaring applause Mayor Bill de Blasio entered the auditorium of Coalition School for Social Change Monday to announce his plan to turn around the city’s struggling schools.
The Education Department singled out 94 of the schools and plans to give them $150 million over the next two years to make them community schools, de Blasio said.
The selected schools are marked by the state as “Priority” or “Focus Schools” and the city is required to present a plan for their improvement.
Coalition School for Social Change is one of them. “This is a school on the move, a school getting better all the time,” de Blasio said. “You can feel it when you walk in the door.”
Yet at this school, only two out of five students manage to graduate in four years and barely three out of four are even present on any given day, 2013 data shows.
De Blasio put the blame on Michael Bloomberg’s administration, saying the school “was forced to fend for itself.”
His plan is to give the school more money to pay for one additional hour of learning every day and a host of other wrap-around services usually seen in community schools.
A community school is a strategy to invite nonprofits or businesses that can bring additional personnel into a school building. These “community partners” provide tutoring, after-school activities, mental and physical health care, and services for parents, such as workshops.
Price of a Community School
Case studies have shown such schools improve attendance, behavior, health, even test scores. But they come with a price tag.
A full-fledged community school costs about $1 million a year, according to a 2013 case study on two schools supported by the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), a non-profit providing the wrap-around services in 16 community schools in the city.
The city has about 100 community schools, yet the majority of them don’t offer the full spectrum of services, such as medical care.
With close to 50,000 students in the 94 struggling schools, the $150 million may spread too thin over two years.
In addition, not all the money can go toward services for students as some will have to pay for training and coaching for teachers and principals.
The community partners can help.
“The partners come often with their own resources,” said Jane Quinn, CAS vice president for community schools. CAS gets about a third of its funding from private donors.
Medical services are usually covered by insurance, but some community schools provide care even for uninsured children. In that case, the program needs to be able to absorb the costs.
Quinn stressed community school is a long-term strategy, one where multiple organizations from the community come together to lift up its school.
But the mayor doesn’t have an abundance of time, as pro-charter school groups are pressuring the administration to solve struggling schools’ problems just as Bloomberg did—close them down and open new schools in the emptied spaces, often charter schools.
But the results of community schools can’t be expected in a few months, sometimes even in a few years, said Michelle Yanche, assistant executive director at Good Shepherd Services, another city’s community schools provider.
The speed mainly depends on how cooperative the school’s leadership is, Yanche said.
De Blasio said if any of the schools can’t make significant improvement within three years, he’d change staff and leadership. If even that wouldn’t help, he’d close the schools down.
“Not casually, as was too often done in the past, but as a last resort—if necessary,” he said.