Recently, Hamilton County Schools officials announced the pilot of four community school models this fall in Opportunity Zone schools, and earlier this year Red Bank High School celebrated the one-year anniversary of its own community school launch.
But what are community schools and what purpose do they serve? Aren't schools already a community, some might ask. Isn't the community already inherently involved in public schools?
Here's what you need to know about community schools.
1. Community schools aren't a new idea. Though Hamilton County only launched its first community school in 2017, other Tennessee school districts have had them for much longer. Knox County established its first of 13 community schools six years ago and Communities in Schools, the leading agency for Metro Nashville's community schools, was established in the 1970's.
2. Community schools don't look the same at every school. Community schools are sometimes referred to as "full-service" or "extended service" schools. Some only have afterschool programs to extend the school day, some have health clinics and pharmacies on campus, some have two main partners and some have several. Research suggests that the most successful community schools extend services based on the neighborhoods' needs, whether that means parenting classes and an on-site preschool or immigration services and dental care.
3. Many of the services and programs that community schools coordinate already take place. Fundamentally, community schools streamline both academic and social services around a centralized hub in the school. Many schools, especially those with high rates of poverty, already have programs such as YMCA afterschool programs and Mobile Fit nutrition programs, sack food packs, church groups, counseling services and dozens of other nonprofits circulating through them. The YMCA serves more than 30 schools in Hamilton County, and On Point almost mirrors that number. Both agencies are taking the lead on the district's four new community schools.
4. The neighborhood and community members drive priorities. The first step for Hamilton County Schools' community school initiative is to assess what is already happening in each school — something the district's coordinators of community schools John Cunningham and Melissa Graham have already been doing this school year by meeting with school principals. Each school will establish a steering committee and the district intends to invite students and parents to advisory councils, as well as establish a Community PTSA, modeled after the successful Orchard Knob Community PTA. Feedback from each of these groups will drive what is implemented in the schools, district officials say.
5. Preliminary research shows they work. During the 2016-2017 school year, Metro Nashville found that 83 percent of students who benefited from a service provided through the community school attended school more; 89 percent made academic gains. Knox County found similar results during the first three years of its community school models — community school students attended 3 to 5 more days of school than their peers.
According to the national Center for Community Schools at the University of Central Florida, community schools are often safer and report fewer suspensions than other schools. Though Red Bank's model is young, the school's community school coordinator Stephanie Hayes cites increased parent engagement and a culture shift there.