A Q&A with the City of Little Rock and Little Rock School District

For community schools in Little Rock, it all comes back to the question, “What does student and family success look like to us?” Each campus has unique needs, assets and priorities, and the City of Little Rock and Little Rock School District (LRSD) want to ensure that schools’ partnerships with local organizations reflect that.

We recently sat down with Jennifer Glasgow, Little Rock’s chief education officer, and Briana Davis, LRSD’s new community school coordinator, to learn how the Capitol City is helping schools build collaborative relationships to enhance student learning, family engagement and community well-being. Read our Q&A below:

Jennifer, what’s the intention behind Little Rock’s investment in community schools?
Our vision is to improve the conditions for student learning in areas of Little Rock that have historically experienced underinvestment. We want every family in every neighborhood to have access to the resources they need to thrive. That includes filling the gaps at schools while also working to address the root causes of these issues within our communities. For example, we know food security is a challenge for many residents. So, in addition to providing non-perishable items at our community schools, we are piloting a cooking class for families to learn how to prepare meals with ingredients that can be purchased locally using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Jennifer, Little Rock is focused on fostering innovative partnerships that allow schools and local organizations to work together. Can you provide a recent success story?
We are a strong proponent of organizations collaborating with our community schools instead of simply serving families on-site. Consider the unique partnership between the Little Rock Zoo and Chicot Elementary as an example. The zoo wanted to engage families beyond the confines of its physical location, and Chicot was ready to transition to a new mascot, the cheetah. Recognizing the opportunity and potential benefits for students and families, Chicot offered to become a pilot site for the Zoo’s mascot program. Students leveraged their new knowledge and passion for conservation to host a fundraiser for the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. During the unveiling event, students surprised zoo staff with a nearly $1,000 check to support cheetah conservation.

Briana, LRSD is fortunate to have a wealth of community partnerships, including school gardens, community cafes, on-site health clinics and more. What’s the secret to the district’s success, and are there best practices other districts can follow?
First, I want to express how grateful we are to our site coordinators for keeping a pulse on their respective communities and making the necessary connections to support the families they serve. Our district’s best practice is being responsive to schools and communities by listening to and evaluating how we can best meet their needs. While we are actively open to new partnerships, we are particularly mindful of the “collaborative leadership, shared power and voice” pillar of the community schools strategy. This mindset requires us to stay adaptable and recognize that we may need to modify certain partnerships for specific requests or shift them to other school campuses.

Briana, like any strategy, the community school model continues to evolve. What are you most looking forward to seeing as the district prioritizes building school, family and community partnerships?
LRSD is excited to work with Communities in Schools (CIS) to implement its model for integrated systems of support. With feedback from their teams, each site coordinator will identify a specific school-wide goal to improve outcomes related to attendance, behavior or course performance at their campuses. Then, they will deploy and coordinate tiered supports to ensure all students and families, especially those identified as needing additional assistance, are connected to the appropriate resources to meet the established goals.

Want to learn more? Join the Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools’ convening on Tuesday, April 2 to uncover how the evolving community schools model is helping drive success for students, families, and communities in Little Rock and across the state. Register at bit.ly/ACCSconvening2024.