P.I.C.: Thinking Systemically about Community Schools

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Policy News    P.I.C. – Partnership. Integration. Coordination. The Children’s Aid Society’s work in New York City and around the country has taught us that all three are critical elements of community schools. Partnership means that schools and community resources decide to join forces in an effort to significantly improve outcomes for children and families. Integration means that the additional supports, services and opportunities brought by the partners are woven into the life of the school, particularly with the core instructional program. And coordination means that these additional supports, services and opportunities are planned in conjunction with one another, with a view toward avoiding duplication, responding to documented need and increasing access for students and families.

Many individual schools and their partners have formed community schools in which partnership, integration and coordination (P.I.C.).are the foundation for their work. However what do these critical building blocks look like at a city or state level? As more and more community school initiatives are thinking systemically, they are thinking about what partnership, integration and coordination mean for systemic-level work.

The Stimulus Package
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), known most commonly as the stimulus package, presents some wonderful opportunities to think boldly and comprehensively about systemic reform. As states and localities make decisions about their applications for discretionary funds from the US Department of Education – State Incentive Grants and Innovation Grants – they will have the opportunity to think differently about partnership, integration and coordination.

For example, states will be asked to improve their collection and use of data as one of the allowable uses of State Incentive funds. Instead of only collecting data on student achievement, states could propose incorporating data on social and emotional indicators, early chronic absenteeism and parent engagement. In some cases, this data is already collected; however, the agencies collecting the data are not sharing their findings with each other or with partners and they are not incorporated into a single accountability structure. ARRA presents an opportunity for states to think in unprecedented ways about the integration of data systems.

In addition, Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and partners will be eligible to apply for funding to expand innovative best practices through the Innovation Fund. This provides an excellent opportunity for school districts and their partners to join together to support community schools – to promote the integration and coordination of critical services and opportunities for children and their families in schools. For more information on other opportunities in ARRA, please see http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/recovery/index.html.

Mayoral Control
Many more localities – cities and counties – are thinking differently about the integration and coordination of services and opportunities at the school district level. And many more localities are experimenting with mayoral control of public schools: transferring power from local school boards to a city’s chief executive. Currently in New York, there is a debate about whether the New York State Legislature will extend the Mayor of New York City’s control over New York City public schools. There are many strong feelings about the benefits or shortcomings of “mayoral control.” However one important aspect is often left out of the debate; mayoral control provides an opportunity to harness the power of city agencies to respond in an integrated and coordinated way to the real and multiple needs that children and families have, using schools as the vehicle.

Just as we know that at an individual school, a holistic approach to working with children and their families yields the best results for them, we believe that a holistic, systemic approach is necessary to address the startling statistics that New York City and many other cities across the country still face, despite gains made over the last years.

How do we respond to the crisis in middle schools or to the fact that 90,000 children in grades K-5 were absent in New York City for a month or more of the 2007-2008 school year? 1 The school system alone cannot be held solely responsible for tackling these issues. Mayoral leadership can facilitate the kind of coordination and integration that is necessary to tackle these problems, but multiple city agencies have to be involved in the solutions.

In New York City, city commissioners and the New York City Schools Chancellor should be held accountable by the mayor to think and plan innovatively together about how to relocate certain services into schools. And schools should receive incentives for partnering with other city agencies and CBOs. Capitalizing on these types of opportunities will help get us to partnership, integration and coordination at a systemic level.

1 Nauer, White and Yerneni, “Strengthening Schools by Strengthening Families: Community Strategies to Reverse Chronic Absenteeism in the Early Grades and Improve Supports for Children and Families,” Center for New York City Affairs, Milano The New School, October 2008.