As our communities and our country face challenges that were unforeseen years ago, leaders across the nation—and indeed across the world—recognize that public education is still the greatest equalizer and also the backbone of democracy. For a growing number of these leaders, community schools represent the strongest possible approach to translating the equity agenda into concrete action on the ground.
Equity was the focus of keynote presentations at two recent national community schools conferences—the Fall 2011 Practicum sponsored by The Children’s Aid Society and the Spring 2012 National Forum sponsored by the Coalition for Community Schools. And it was also the driving force behind a March 2012 special event held at The Children’s Aid Society’s community school at the Salome Urena Campus and sponsored the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, New York University, the Campaign for Educational Equity and Columbia University. The ideas discussed at all of these events revolve around the central notion that school improvement cannot take place solely through a “laser-like focus on instruction” (an approach that some reformers advocate). Most of the educational reforms of the past decade have at best produced only modest results, in large measure because they have focused almost exclusively on the instructional side of the teaching-and-learning equation. While strengthening instruction, aligning assessments and improving teacher effectiveness are all critical elements of school reform, these approaches fall into the necessary but not sufficient category. As new research from the Chicago Public Schools makes clear, instructional reforms can be successful only when they are combined with family and community engagement and concerted attention to school climate (see Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, Anthony Bryk et al., University of Chicago Press, 2010). A proven strategy for uniting these essential ingredients is community schools—a comprehensive and integrated approach to school improvement.
Across these recent convenings, education leaders including Dr. Pedro Noguera from New York University and Angela Blackwell, President of PolicyLink, made the very strong case that equity is an economic as well as a moral imperative and that equity is at the center of every community school initiative—because community schools respond to the documented strengths and needs of their students and families.
We want to congratulate our community schools on their 20th anniversary and to thank Mayor Bloomberg for declaring March 16, 2012 as Community Schools Day in New York City, in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Salomé Ureña Campus, the first CAS school. Finally, we dedicate this issue of Partnership Press to our dear friend and mentor, Joy Dryfoos, who passed away on March 17 of this year. She will always be remembered as the Godmother of Community Schools and as a tireless advocate for equity and social justice.
Jane Quinn and Richard Negrón