EdFix Episode 5: Live from the Community Schools National Forum

TRANSCRIPT

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
I'm Michael Feuer, and this is EdFix, your source for insights about the practice and promise of education. For this episode of EdFix. I had the great pleasure of leaving the George Washington University campus and go on a road trip to the Community Schools National Forum in Baltimore, Maryland where we recorded live. This forum takes place every two years, and it brings together more than 2,000 teachers, administrators, community advocates, families, policy makers, and others who are working in and for community schools around the country. All day, I had the chance to speak with education leaders about their goals, about the impact of community schools on students and families and communities. And so for this episode of EdFix, we have put together some of the highlights from the conversations on this very inspiring day.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
My first interview at the Community Schools National Forum, I met with Julia Baez. She is the executive director of Baltimore's Promise, which is a collaborative dedicated to improving outcomes for the city's young people. Julia's description of community schools help to set the stage for the rest of the day. So tell us a little bit about this phrase community schools as it might be distinguished from public schools, from schools in general. What's special about community schools?

JULIA BAEZ:
I think of community schools... My kids like this movie, Robots, and there's this robot who helps fix all the other robots in the movie, and his tagline is, "See a need, fill a need." And I think of community schools in that way that whatever the barrier is, whatever the need is, the school is the place, but the idea is to bring the resources, the opportunities and to create an access point that, in some places otherwise, doesn't exist. And whether that's for healthcare, or after school, or job opportunities for families, most of the folks in our country interact with a public school system at some point. So why not use that connecting point to create all this opportunity that should exist and doesn't in many of our communities across the country?

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Give us an example of a community school in Baltimore where it is succeeding as the connector point with all these other resources.

JULIA BAEZ:
We have a community school like Wolfe Street Academy that's been around for 12 years now as a community school and what they've done in very small space, and so they figured out how to connect with resources that are around their school. So they have the University of Maryland comes in and does a dental clinic in the school library. So if you're a kid and you have a cavity or you need your fluoride treatment, your parents don't have to worry, one, about dental coverage, and two, they don't have to worry about transportation or getting you to a dental clinic. It happens right there at the same time it should happen if you were going somewhere else to get your checkup. So it looks different. It feels different depending on what the need of that community is, which makes it great. It's a hyper-local strategy. It's responsive to that neighborhood and those folks, but it's just a beautiful network of partnerships depending on what the need is.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Is there an economies of scale thing going on here?

JULIA BAEZ:
There certainly is. I think there's a lead intermediary organization in the city, Family League of Baltimore, that really works on providing the ongoing technical assistance and capacity building and resource development for community schools. Baltimore's Promise works to make sure that together, we can show the impact of that work, that we're aligning resources often in cities. We're like, "Oh, there's community schools over here. Let's start something brand new on the other side of town." And our job is really to lift up those effective practices in the city, so that we can scale them to make sure that more young people are accessing those resources. Our organization, part of our job is to really show that we can actually work together and get things done in our city. And so our board is made up of philanthropic leaders, and higher ed institutions, and public agencies, and really to show the proof of concept of collaboration.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
My next guest was Alexandria Warrick Adams, who is the director of an organization called Elev8 Baltimore, an award winning community schools initiative working in four schools in Baltimore. She shares with me how she measures the success of a community school strategy, and what she says to funders who ask about the impact of their investment.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Alexandria, welcome to EdFix. Tell us a little bit about Elev8, tell us a little bit about you, and tell us a little bit about what your hopes are for this community schools forum.

ALEXANDRIA WARRICK ADAMS:
Great. Well, thank you for having me. I'm really excited about this opportunity. Elev8 Baltimore is a national strategy originally founded out of the Atlantic Philanthropies around ensuring that middle school students are successfully transitioning to high school, and that we're supporting reducing the number of students that are dropping out between that ninth and 10th grade year. Over the course of time, in Baltimore in particular, we've adopted a whole school strategy. We're not just in middle schools, so it was really important to us to use the community school framework around whole-school implementation, whole-school wraparound supports for students, families and teachers to ensure that all students are prepared for high school, college, career, and life.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Give us an example of how Elev8 in one or another of the schools where you're really working is demonstrating that there's a real possibility and real opportunity.

ALEXANDRIA WARRICK ADAMS:
So at William Pinderhughes, it's a really interesting community in West Baltimore in the Sandtown-Winchester community. We're seeing families are leaving. The population is shrinking. The student population in those individual schools in that community are shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. And there was a district recommendation to close William Pinderhughes. And the kids, the families, the staff all rallied using the framework that Elev8 had been building for five or six years with this school community, and they were not in our school. Our school is the hub, the center of opportunities for our community, and you cannot take this away from us. And the result is actually a very forward thinking result on behalf of the district and the school board is that we're now going through a community planning process to merge two small schools together, but to create a new community school for this community that envisions all the opportunities and ideas and concepts around education pedagogy in this new school. It's not going to be a new building, but it will be a whole new vision for this community, and this is going to be the catalyst to driving more people back into this historically vibrant community.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
And what kind of metrics do you use? What kind of data do you gather to either show what's happening and to make improvements, or to just answer the question, "Does this investment pay off?"

ALEXANDRIA WARRICK ADAMS:
Yeah, I think it starts with having a really solid foundation in your evaluation design and asking the right questions from the start. But I'm able to measure whether or not families are safe supported. I'm able to measure students' resiliency. I'm able to understand whether or not kids feel that they are in a safe, supported environment. I'm able to measure the increased partnerships, and so that's how we're measuring success. And I'm honest, also, with my foundation partners. It's took generations to get Sandtown into Baltimore to where we're at, and I push on them and say, "You're not going to see the promised land in three years of a funding cycle. It's absolutely not possible, but what you're going to see is a healthier community. You're sure going to see is families that are more satisfied with their school. You're going to see mobility rates dropping, because families are going to choose to stay in this school. You're going to see that kids are coming to school more often, and hopefully when they're coming more often, that's going to translate into increased academic performances."

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Does the research community provide you with the kind of evidence, the kind of knowledge, the kind of information that you can really use?

ALEXANDRIA WARRICK ADAMS:
There is a lot of really good research that's happening in the field around education, but I'm really excited and hoping that on the horizon, I am going to see more research around the link between community schools and wraparound supports and how that connects and supports to academic achievement. But if we think about creating the conditions for success and how are we measuring conditions for success, that's really important.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Next, I had the chance to speak with Deanna Hron, who teaches kindergarten in Deer River, Minnesota. Deanna helped launch a Full-Service Community School in September, and she has already been recognized for her efforts with this year's Educator Leadership Award here at the forum.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Deanna, welcome to the show. Tell us a little bit about Deer River. Tell us about your work there, and then tell us about this award you got.

DEANNA HRON:
The school that I teach in, King Elementary, is a pre K through five building, and we have about 500 kids. And we just began our journey as a Full-Service Community School in September. Through our work with the coalition and the Full-Service Community School, we have a food pantry. We have mental health services in our building. We have early childhood. We have a senior citizen center in our building. We do a community cafe for families in the evenings. We serve meals two nights a week. So we have a lot of supports for our community.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Terrific. Tell us about what the conference means to you and getting this award.

DEANNA HRON:
Two years ago, I was able to attend the Full-Service Community Schools forum in Albuquerque, and it was an amazing experience, gave us a lot of ideas for what we wanted to do in Deer River, and just went back home and started grassroots organizing and trying to get people on board, and my coordinator nominated me, and it's very humbling, and I want to use it to spread the word about Full-Service Community Schools and how they can help our kids.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
We've been talking a lot about the, what sounds like a really exciting and very positive environment and experiences for the kids and the families. I guess you're showing that, for some of this, it really does take a village.

DEANNA HRON:
It really does. It starts with parents who struggle with mental illness, or drug addiction, or they don't have transportation, and so then, those barriers permit them from taking them to the doctor or getting mental health services like going after school to mental health services. So we're trying to provide services at our school.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
My next conversation, I spoke with Khalilah Slater Harrington. She's the senior director of youth initiatives for the Family League of Baltimore. Family League funds programs in 44 community schools in Baltimore, supports community-based organizations, and utilizes data to measure the effectiveness of their organization and its outcomes.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Khalilah, tell us a little bit about the family league, how it fits into this and what you do.

KHALILAH SLATER HARRINGTON:
Sure. So the Family League exists because of Maryland statute. It is called a local management board. There is one in each county seat, and local management boards are designed to support the needs of children and families in each Maryland jurisdiction. In our jurisdiction, community schools are a priority. And so at the Family League, we braid funding both from the state, the governor's office of children, and an investment, a sizable investment from our generous mayor. It's a three legged stool. So Baltimore city public schools is a key partner both offering some financial support for the strategy, but certainly their leadership in terms of how we are being responsive to children's needs.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
How does the Family League interact with community schools? Tell us a little bit about how it works.

KHALILAH SLATER HARRINGTON:
Sure. So we're an intermediary, and so we have the opportunity to regularly interface with other government entities. We're quasi-governmental, but we get to be at the grasstops and grassroots levels. And so much of our work is helping the grasstops understand our ground game, what's happening on the ground here in Baltimore, but also supporting the work of our partners. So we fund about 44 community schools in Baltimore, and then we have some self-funded community schools, which brings us to about 49.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
When you say that you fund 44 schools, and so when you're funding them, it's for specific programs that they are then implementing in those schools?

KHALILAH SLATER HARRINGTON:
That is correct. So in Baltimore, our community school strategy is comprised of... Well, there's two major cornerstones there. It is the community school coordinator who is on the ground as the gatekeeper for that building, who is making sure to strategically deploy resources. In the best case scenario, they're considered a building administrator working hand-in-hand with that principal, but they are from a community-based organization, and so we fund that community-based organization that then puts their full time staff member in the building. That's part of the funding. The other part of the funding is our strategy in Baltimore is extended time, expanded learning time, and so we operate programming in the out of school time after school and during the summer. And so our funding that we braid from government to entities, like I said, is directed into a grant for both of those things, both the coordinator and the out of school time.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
When your funders ask you, "Show us how this is working," you have some of your favorite examples or metrics or measures of impact?

KHALILAH SLATER HARRINGTON:
One thing I love about the community school strategy is we don't use data as a hammer. We use it as a light. We want to see what's working. And so we're not looking to nail people down when data doesn't come up. We are data informed, and so where we've shown a lot of promise is around attendance. And if you can imagine, it's more than a visiting teacher, because you are creating systems and structures and places so that even when a visiting teacher is not there and we're not just asking the question about why this kid isn't coming, we're getting to the systemic issue, and then we're putting the infrastructure in place so that as those issues arise, that there is a system response. And we have to start to unpack some of the issues that they deal with. They're doing a lot of adulting before they even arrive in the building. And so we've shown promise in those areas, too. So we have evidence to support that.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Later in the afternoon, I sat down with Jose Munoz, director of the Coalition for Community Schools, which is an initiative of the Institute for Educational Leadership. The coalition, which Jose runs, is an alliance of over 200 national state and local organizations that promote equity through the community schools efforts all across the country. I'm going to ask Jose to introduce himself and say a few words about the coalition and about the conference, too.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Jose, welcome.

JOSE MUNOZ:
Sure. Thanks. My name's Jose Munoz, but the coalition itself is an alliance of local, national and state organizations who really utilize community schools to promote equity and help develop not just education, but the families and communities. It advances education and workforce.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Have you found the intellectual and, say, political atmosphere in Washington hospitable to the kinds of ideals that are part of your organization. You came at an interesting time in the history of American politics and DC.

JOSE MUNOZ:
But it is an interesting time. It is a rough time. It's very a very hard time where you have these ideas we talked about over a century old, and yet you look at another amateur or historian, but you look at the times when achievement gaps were closest were the times we had the most social service supports. If I was an elected official, I may want to become an amateur historian myself to see what works, but we don't see that. We see the self-interest that is winning over actual what worked through history.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
The 50th anniversary of something called the Kerner Commission report, which came out in 1968 in the wake of the very serious violence and riots that we had here in 1967, and 50 years later, as a sequel to that Kerner report, which suggests that there had been some progress, at least in the first couple of decades after that in terms of achievement gaps, in terms of socioeconomic inequality, in terms of mobility, in terms of employment, even health indicators, and that over the last 20 or 30 years, we've had a pretty significant slide back and an erosion of some of that progress.

JOSE MUNOZ:
Yeah. So being a man of color, I look at that and you think about the words of institutional racism and what's happening to the gentrification of places in our cities and what are people who are economically disadvantaged are going through, we're getting to have an opportunity to educate themselves on those issues, which impacts the voting booth. So I think that report, the Kerner report, is why is that happening? People of color, people who live in poverty aren't getting to the voting booths enough. When you have resources that continue to be depleted, it continues to isolate those communities. And what community schools can, can do and does do is a mobilizing effort to educate people and give them the right to vote on how they're going to vote on, but if you put enough people who are hurting for resources and give them the power to vote and educate them on where people are, our elected officials are those running for elected offices, where they stand, I guarantee that they're going to vote in a way that's going to help their family. They're going to vote in a way that's going to help their children and the next generation. And so that's where our next steps are for community school is just educate people. Call out what's happening. But I want to give the elected officials a chance though, too.

JOSE MUNOZ:
So how do we as an intermediary, the Coalition of Community Schools between what's happening on the ground and local communities and the elected officials who have the power to make some of these changes, how do we begin to represent and activate a community like you see here, at this national convening we have, the national forum and package that and educate our elected officials so they'll make the right decisions, but understand when they commit to those decisions, they are representing the communities that need it the most.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Our day continued with a conversation with Bela Shah Spooner, manager of expanded learning at the National League of Cities. National League of Cities serves the interests of 19,000 cities, towns and villages in the U.S., and it was honored with the National Partner award at the Community Schools National Forum for its efforts to reduce the opportunity gap for communities with need.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
So I'm going to start by asking Bela to tell us what expanded learning means, and how the national league of cities fits into the Community Schools National Forum.

BELA SHAH SPOONER:
So what do I mean by expanded learning? Well we're talking about afterschool programs, summer learning programs, opportunities that are provided for youth during anytime school is not in session in the weekends, as well as really thinking about community schools. So the National League of Cities is an organization that represents mayors, city council members, cities as a whole, or senior city leader. Our institute for youth education and families really focuses on how we can support those city leaders with best practices on what's happening in other communities, research, networking opportunities so cities can learn from one another, technical assistance to help a community really move an agenda, and how to respond to all of the needs that they have to address the needs of children, youth and families in their communities. And community schools has been at the heart of that. So we were delighted to receive the National Partner Award at this conference for our work to promote community schools with cities and mayors across the country.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Is the coalition therefore, and the work of the National League of Cities finding itself somehow a little bit more breathlessly working against these currents, which have to do with all kinds of large macro-level effects.

BELA SHAH SPOONER:
Yeah, research has shown that affluent parents are now spending seven times the amount of money on afterschool expanded learning opportunities. So proportionally, that's just outrageous. And so you're thinking about the types of opportunities that where affluent parents can provide to young people. So those opportunity gaps and all of the other gaps that come into play because of exposure and opportunity continues to widen. So we are seeing that, and we know that the need for afterschool programs and other ways of engaging kids, that need is growing tremendously. I would agree that NLC and the coalition and many, many youth development, youth serving organizations are working harder, trying to reach more kids, more communities so that we can try to fill those gaps. And thinking about the strategies that we can help to put in place in communities that ensure increased access to those opportunities, increased access to programs so that the participation can increase as well. Just really trying to reduce those barriers. That's the biggest thing.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
In your experience at the level of cities, are you finding that there is a strong and sustained appetite for what we would call a research-informed policy agenda?

BELA SHAH SPOONER:
I think city leaders are looking for the data, and they're paying attention. And that's what we're here for, the National League of Cities, is to provide them with that best research. They're asking for evidence-based practices or best practices from other communities. So they are paying attention to that, and they're looking at their own data, and they are paying attention to the needs of the children in their communities and what's working. So as they implement community school strategies, as they implement what we've worked to help so many cities create citywide after school systems, there has been a huge emergence of these citywide data systems and management information systems to track that, because you constantly, unfortunately in this field, need to make your case for why you need to invest in afterschool, why you need to invest in community schools. While we know it works, they need to see the data. So yes, I definitely think city leaders are looking at the data and value it.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
And finally, we wrapped up this incredible day by speaking with the president of the Institute for Educational Leadership. Dr Johan Uvin. The Institute for Educational Leadership is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, which has been at the forefront of efforts to bring together leaders across various sectors of education, workforce development, child and youth serving systems, aiming to eliminate barriers and create conditions and policies necessary for everyone to succeed. Johan shared his vision for the next generation of the community schools effort.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
So welcome, Johan. It's a pleasure to see you and have you with us. I'm just going to start by asking you to tell us how the conference is going, and what are your biggest hopes for what's going on here?

JOHAN UVIN:
I think I would describe what has happened here over the last couple of days as almost giving a turbo boost to the momentum around community schools, not community schools as a building, but community schools as a strategy to really think about what public education ought to look like in our country. I think what we've witnessed here is that there is growing interest in really looking at this model, because it's a sustainable model. It's a model that is rooted in the community and that involves members from the community in a way that they transform the educational experiences for the children, the youth and the adults and families in their respective communities in the ways that the traditional model has not been able to do.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
And the strategy we've been hearing a lot during the day essentially involves an expansion of the word public to actually mean that the school is part of a broader set of public resources that are working together on behalf of kids in and families in their communities.

JOHAN UVIN:
If you think of a child or a teenager in our schools, particularly in the context of communities where opportunities have been lacking, then there are a number of challenges that one typically does not associate with educational institution challenges. We're then talking about issues of neighborhood safety and security. We're talking about food security. We're talking about housing issues. We're talking about access to health and human services. So it is this notion that if you really want to educate the whole child or the whole person or the whole family and, by extension, transform the entire community, then this is an intervention that requires cross-sectoral collaboration at the community level in ways that the traditional educational model typically does not facilitate. If you really want to address the systemic and the structural barriers that sit underneath the lack of progress in terms of access and achievement, then soon, the conversation will be about issues of structural racism, institutional racism and so forth.

JOHAN UVIN:
So then, you need a strategy that puts in place collaborative structures, processes that allow members of the community, including the education community, really to begin to work together to create what I and others, particularly Victor Carey of the National Equity Project in California calls it a practice of transformation. We now need to get to that next level, because what we're seeing is significant variation in the learning outcome trajectories of these community schools. Some of them, not withstanding all the issues that they face, have a slope in the improvement trajectory that is remarkable, and others who work with similar populations in similar communities who have done the same thing in terms of community partnerships are not yet seeing that same level of improvement, or at least the slope of their trajectory is not that steep or not that accelerated. So I think our question then is, "So what exactly is it that we need to do so that the learning improves in all of these community contexts, so that we can deliver on the equity promise?" Because that's ultimately what it's about.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Is IEL, for example, committing to an evidence-informed set of strategies?

JOHAN UVIN:
We have made a decision with our board and with our leadership team to intentionally begin the development and implementation of an evidence strategy related to community schools and also other areas of our work. So we're transforming our organization from an organization that primarily focused on supporting movement building and technical assistance and things of that nature to one that wants to use data and evidence in that entire process. There are a lot of people who know what needs to happen, whether there is evidence from so-called rigorous studies are not in support of that, but it's more that who is on the investment end may have very particular notions of what success actually means that are limited in that they don't actually capture the full effect of some of these strategies like community schools.

JOHAN UVIN:
So we had a panel earlier today during the conference where people were talking about the impact on community and economic development, and that is not necessarily the type of education evaluation outcome that people typically think of. So what we need to do is also work with our funders community, including public and private funders, and with our colleagues in academia to really explore what is that next generation of evaluation methodologies that we should develop that would allow us to more accurately capture and also attribute the outcomes that we see from these comprehensive strategies like community schools that go well beyond an increase in test scores or higher graduation rate. We need to work with the funder community, with academia to meet that intellectual challenge of coming up with some new ways of measuring these impacts.

MICHAEL J. FEUER:
Well, I want to thank the Institute for Educational Leadership and the Coalition for Community Schools for inviting us to broadcast live from the Community Schools National Forum in Baltimore. I met people who are working together toward educational opportunity for all, and it was a memorable set of conversations. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe to the EdFix podcast on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, or SoundCloud. And for more information about this podcast, our guests, and other episodes, you can visit our website at go.gwu.edu/EdFix.