Letter to the Editor: Community Schools

October 15, 2019

In the 2018-2019 school year, of the 188 schools across Arkansas labeled as “D” or “F” schools under our state’s ESSA framework, 85 percent are high-poverty schools. Additional educational and social services are needed to ensure that the more than 74,000 students enrolled in these persistently low-performing schools and their families can thrive.

Commonly proposed “fixes” used to bolster underperforming schools, such as new reading initiatives, curriculum updates and additional professional development, are unlikely to succeed if students are not ready to learn due of a host of challenges related to poverty. In persistently low-performing high-poverty schools, both educational improvements¬†and¬†social supports for students and families are needed. Either alone will be inadequate.

A growing body of educational research supports the community-school model as a success strategy for these schools, students and families. This approach focuses on identifying the needs in a specific school and connecting students and families to community-based resources and supports that can help remove barriers to learning. Examples include installing a washer and dryer on premises for student use, partnering with health-care and dental providers to provide mobile clinics, creating an on-campus food pantry, hosting GED classes for parents and more.

In written testimony submitted Friday to the House Interim Committee on Education and the Senate Interim Committee on Education, I have proposed broad implementation of the community-school model in our low-achieving schools as the best way to efficiently and effectively address student needs without overburdening existing school staff from the important work of supporting learning and achievement in the classroom.

Little Rock
Susan Harriman is executive director of ForwARd Arkansas

Read for the full letter published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.