NYS Exposed Education: Rochester testing out 'community schools'

September 29, 2016 06:40 PM

ROCHESTER—They are a one-stop shop for doctor and dentist appointments, meals, counseling service and school. Rochester is testing out the "community school" model in an effort to turn around failing schools.

The Rochester City School District has been struggling with student performance, attendance and dropout rates for decades. As one of the poorest cities in America, a majority of struggling students here live in poverty. By helping them through that, the district hopes it can help keep them in school.

Community parties, like the one News10NBC visited, at School 17 are the norm. Parents, teachers and students spend a lot of time together and not just inside the classroom. School 17 has recently been transformed into a "community school" -- what exactly does that mean?

"There’s a health center on-site, dental center on-site, mental health services available," says School 17 Principal Caterina Leone Mannino. "We have an expanded learning day which allows kids to have enrichment opportunities like band, chorus, strings instruction without taking away from their instructional program."

There's also dinner service, neighborhood watch meetings are held there and parents are welcome to come and go as they please. It's a model the state, city and district have been talking about, for years. By helping children and their families through poverty, the hope is that more kids will stay in school and start to do better.

"My step-kids went here when they were younger and there was nothing like this ever, so I'm glad I can actually come in and see what my daughter is doing and see what her progress is and actually get to know the teachers and faculty… having a doctor and dentist on-site is convenient, especially when I don’t drive. I got two kids, it’s not like I can leave one at home, the other one has to tag along,” says Mary Robbins, a mother with a child at School #17.

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Research has shown that when kids living in poverty come to school, they’re often hungry, bored, sick or emotional. The hope is that if they can get help with all of that at school, they’ll be able to learn better while in school. In 2015, just 3 percent of students in grades 3-8 at School 17 were proficient in math, 2 percent in ELA. Will this model be able to change those numbers? That’s the million dollar question.

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC): "You said you came from Central Office and you had this idea and now you're on the ground and executing it, is it what you had hoped it would be?"
Caterina Leone Mannino: "Absolutely, it's hard though. It's really a lot of work, we have a team of individuals who have committed to the vision."

Jennifer Lewke: "Is it too soon to determine whether student performance is increasing?"
Leone Mannino: "We had increases in our literacy performance. Certainly, we're not at a point where I feel like I can jump up and down but we did make small, incremental gains."

Lewke: "When we talk to lawmakers, when we talk to district leaders, when we talk to community leaders, they really point to this community based school model as a way to save struggling schools... is that how you see it?"
Leone Mannino: "Absolutely, I think what we've tried to do [in the past] is to make everything fall into a separate pocket, it's the district's problem, it's the police's problem, no it's the city's problem, no it's the county's problem. You know what? It doesn't matter, at the end of the day, there's a child in the center of that decision."

There are other schools, particularly in the New York City area that have switched over to this model and are seeing slow by steady increases in student performance. RCSD School Board President Van White tells New10NBC while he’s cautiously optimistic, he doesn’t think the model will necessarily be the answer for all of Rochester’s failing schools.

"I'm always concerned about sort of the flavor of the month that seems to be part of the jargon in the educational community so you're not going to hear me say, 'We're going into community schools' because I think in reality, that takes us down the wrong path, it's not a model that you need it's an approach for the leaders and the parents of a building,” he says.

Barbara Deane-Williams, the new Superintendent of the Rochester City School District says she doesn’t think there is one answer to fixing failing schools but she does like this model. "I think the community school model is a strong model in that you're bringing multiple partners to the table, providing ways for the school to really extend partnerships with the community and a partnership with us."


Jennifer Lewke

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