Central Florida: A New Day at Evans Community School

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There is excitement, pride and a feeling of a new beginning among students, parents, educators and the general community at the recently rebuilt Evans High School in Pine Hills, a neighborhood just west of Orlando in Orange County, Florida. The building is in fact a visual metaphor for this “new day” at the home of the “Trojans,” as the students call themselves.  

The community school officially opened its doors on October 13, 2012 after three years of thorough planning, led by the University of Central Florida (UCF), the Children’s Home Society of Florida (CHSF), the Orange County Public Schools and with support from public and private funders.

After visiting and studying the Children's Aid Society (CAS) community school partnership with the New York City Department of Education, Evans Community School decided to adapt the model.  The CAS model calls for comprehensive support focused on student success and well-being, and is uniquely positioned to eliminate barriers to academic success for students and strengthen the community for lifelong success.  

David Bundy, CHSF chief executive officer and a strong advocate of the collective action nature of community schools, engaged the CAS National Center for Community Schools (NCCS) as a thinking partner from the initiative’s earliest stage in 2009. Partners and funders have participated in a number of multiple day study-visits to the CAS schools in New York City.  Former CAS CEO Pete Moses traveled to Central Florida to help “sell” the concept to different constituents, and CAS’s health division has been generous in sharing its school-based health expertise during the planning of critical on-site health programs for the students and their families.  

Michael Frumkin, dean of the College of Health and Public Affairs at the UCF, echoes Mr. Bundy, and firmly believes the power of the community school concept is self-evident. “This is a common sense strategy that gets people easily excited,” he says. “The university prides itself on collaborating with Evans and the community. There is no more important partnership than one that can change the lives of an entire community.”  Frumkin adds that the university will recruit interns from the medical, counseling, social work, nursing, and education schools.    

The lead partners are in the process of securing additional funding to implement and sustain an ambitious long-term plan. This plan includes developing a school-based health clinic for medical, dental and mental health services for students, faculty and the community (in partnership with Central Florida Family Health Center); expanding extended-day activities for students to include more arts and cultural enrichment; providing academic support (tutoring and expanded learning opportunities); and offering family engagement and adult education opportunities.  

Nancy Ellis, director of the Center for Community Partnerships at the UCF’s College of Health and Public Affairs, and the person in charge of keeping all partners moving in the same direction, says that while there is high need at Evans, there are also many assets and a great deal of promise,too. “We brought together committed people who can help and we are already demonstrating positive results at our community school—higher academic achievement, increased graduation rates and improved SAT scores,” she says. “There is increasing interest in replication of the model and we are also learning about what key partners are needed and how best to ‘govern’ a diverse group of organizations seeking collective impact. We are planning on producing a community guide to outline what we have learned together that has advanced our efforts.”

After more than a decade of receiving failing grades, the school received a “C” rating last year followed by a “B” for this current school year.  In addition, graduation rates have reached 80%, up from 64% in 2011.  Principal Jenny Gibson-Linkh, who took over the school leadership earlier this year, feels privileged to be leading a community school. She has a strong identification with the Evans students and a true commitment to the community school strategy, and firmly believes that the Evans community will continue to build on these accomplishments.  

Ellis adds that every day, they are seeing the transformational effect of the community schools ingredients as they interact with one another.  “Evans has become a hub of the community. There is momentum, hopefulness and excitement. We are having fun!” she says. The closing of “Because of You,” a poem to the school written by students Cianetta Gomez, Keila Muñoz and Daniela Zuart, illustrates this widespread feeling of hope.  

“Because you have a giving heart and soul, a passionate drive and a sincere mind.
Because of you, I can be someone,
Someone who can make a difference, like you did for me.”