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City Invests $25.5M to Expand 'Community' Schools Program

By  Nicole Levy and Amy Zimmer | May 11, 2017 5:18pm 

 Bill de Blasio speaks at a press conference about the city's community schools initiative on Thursday afternoon at P.S. 155 Nicholas Herkimer in Bed-Stuy.
Bill de Blasio speaks at a press conference about the city's community schools initiative on Thursday afternoon at P.S. 155 Nicholas Herkimer in Bed-Stuy.
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DNAinfo/Nicole Levy

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — The city is expanding its network of “community” schools, where high-needs students are given extra supports like mental and physical health services, as well as longer school days for expanded learning time and social services for their families, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

With the addition of 69 community schools in September, there will be a total of 215 community schools serving more than 108,000 New York City students — or more students than the entire school districts of Baltimore or Denver.  The schools that are coming into the program are funded through a $25.5 million federal grant, officials noted.

“The beauty of community schools is they reach the whole child and whole family,” de Blasio said at a press conference at P.S./I.S. 155 in Bed-Stuy Thursday afternoon, explaining how the model involves family members, educators, guidance counselors and health care professionals in a child's education. “How many times was a child being hindered academically because they had a mental health problem that was being unaddressed? In a community school, you know from the beginning that mental health professionals are right there, available to all kids.”

The new community schools, of which P.S. 155 is one, will each receive roughly an additional $350,000 in funding, officials said. The process of selecting the 65 schools involved input from district superintendents and principals. 

Principals of participating schools get to choose the community-based organization they partner with to address the particular needs of their student body, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said. CBOs can offer such services as food pantries, vision screenings and dental cleanings.

By tackling problems related to health and housing instability, community schools have been working to improve attendance and collect data tracking students who frequently don’t show up to school. Many schools have high populations of homeless students and see chronic absenteeism, which is a major predictor of poor performance.

By providing extra services — like washing machines at the East Village’s P.S. 15 or “success mentors” at the Bronx’s School of Diplomacy — many community schools have seen attendance improve. City officials said chronic absenteeism at community schools has declined by more than 7 percent.

Test scores have also improved, officials said, with state English scores increasing about 5 percent and math scores rising nearly 2 percent.

Failing schools that are considered “renewal” schools and are in danger of closing because of poor performance are also part of the community school network, although they also receive additional academic support. The city recently voted to shutter five renewal schools and merge others, raising questions about the efficacy and large price tag of the community school model.

The city recently announced that it tapped MBLM, a branding agency, to promote its community school initiative and create a new logo for the program.

The company’s vision centers on the idea of “support from all sides” and aims to highlight how these schools help students academically, as well as psychologically, physically, and socially, according to a press release.

"If we can get the children in school, we can improve their academic outcomes," Ernest Logan, president of the union that represents the city’s principals and assistant principals, said at the press conference Thursday. "But we first have to deal with all the baggage that they bring to school so we can have them focus on getting a good education."