Community schools seek to cluster services for students 

click to enlarge Community schools incorporate health clinics and other services. - SF EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • Community schools incorporate health clinics and other services.

At George Washington Carver Elementary in the Bayview, children don’t just learn reading and math. They also get therapy, counseling, asthma screenings and access to a weekly food pantry.

“You talk about the achievement gap, but you also have to look at the health disparities,” said Principal Natasha Flint-Moore. “It’s not just the cognitive development, it’s the mental and behavioral health. It’s really looking at the whole child now.”

The concept, called community schools, is increasingly popular in education circles.

“It’s growing all across the country,” said Martin Blank, director of the Coalition for Community Schools in Washington, D.C. “This is really an old vision of the school as the center of the community.”

San Francisco has been creating community schools since 2009, when the city received a $500,000 New Day For Learning grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to help set up services at a handful of pilot schools. But the grant, along with the training and the two-person staff it covered, went away this month, and as of Tuesday the San Francisco Unified School District has been on its own.

“When we started the work a couple years ago, always knew that the grant would come to an end,” said Kevin Truitt, the district’s associate superintendent for student support services.

Truitt’s sprawling department will now oversee community schools, which the SFUSD plans to eventually expand to every campus in the district.

Margaret Brodkin, the former Department of Children, Youth and their Families head who led the New Day For Learning project for the past three years, said expanding the program would be an undertaking.

“One challenge is to keep everyone engaged in the work,” she said. “It’s never over. The district is trying to create another culture. That’s much easier said than done.”

Funding is less of a challenge, Brodkin said, because community schools rely on what The City already has — namely, a vast nonprofit community that is eager to help where it can.

Claudia Jasin, director of Jamestown Community Center in the Mission district, said New Day For Learning had helped forge ties between community-based organizations and the district.

“There were times when it felt like it was just war between the CBOs and the district,” she said, recalling the years before the community schools program. “They really did not feel welcome.”

Today, Jamestown is one of several nonprofits that work in schools, including Cesar Chavez Elementary and James Lick Middle School.

“CBOs can’t do it alone, and schools can’t do it alone either if we want to raise healthy children,” she said. “To me, it’s the most progressive education reform out there. This is not about test scores, it’s about raising alive, wonderful children.”

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