Building on the success and learning from challenges of its two community schools – Chute Middle School in Evanston and Lincoln Junior High in Skokie – Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) asked School District 65 earlier this year to join in establishing a second community school in Evanston.
At the May 23 District 65 School Board meeting, plans were announced to implement the community school at Martin Luther King Arts School, formerly called King Lab School, 2424 Lake St.
The website communityschools.org defines a community school as “both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and school services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.” One of the best known community schools is the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City.
The guiding principles for Y.O.U.’s community schools are collective impact, shared ownership, local leadership, inclusivity, and making schools into community hubs.
Site Selection Criteria
A team composed of Ismael Nunez, Family and Community Engagement Specialist for District 65; John Price, Assistant Superintendent of Schools; and Erin Moore, Y.O.U’s Director of Community Schools, evaluated five potential sites, ultimately selecting King Arts.
The team analyzed a range of school data, such as students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the 5Essentials identified by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research for a thriving school, and information about the achievement/opportunity gap and measured these against three criteria: the school’s readiness for implementation of a community school, the needs of students and families, and the existing partnerships.
Ms. Nunez said multiple factors favored the King Arts site: “alignment with what is going on with the school; the fact that 48% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch; and an interest in increasing partnerships.”
King Arts Principal Jeffrey Brown said, “What I like about this is that this is not about the have and have-nots. It’s about mental health, family counseling, and things that cut across the spectrum. We are excited and we hope this spills out into the neighborhood.”
Earlier in the meeting, Rebecca Langan and Ellen Lonnquist said the King Arts community is coming together around a movement called ONE King Arts. “We want to create a space at King Arts where every voice could be honored and heard – a space centered around the whole child,” said Ms. Langan.
The plan is to communicate the plans to the King Arts community, begin to set up the community school infrastructure in August, recruit a Community School Action Team in the fall, and launch one or two community school pilot programs next May, said Ms. Nunez. The projected cost of the first year is $69,000, of which the District will contribute $15,000, said Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green. “We are thrilled to be partnering with District 65,” he said. Referring to the $15,000 financial commitment by the District, he said, “What you don’t see is the deep commitment of the many in-kind resources, such as keeping the building open, during before and after school hours,” Ms. Moore said Y.O.U.’s metrics and measures are geared toward “continuous improvement” of the program.
Board member Suni Kartha said she had had her own ideas about the community school, “but I’m thrilled, and we’re moving on.”
Board member Richard Rykhus said his comment “is an acknowledgement … of the administration and the collective partnership and how they have really blossomed over the past couple of years. A special thank-you to Y.O.U., because in all your programs, you are continuing to grow.”
“I’m excited about this, but I think it’s also an opportunity to engage parents,” said Board member Omar Brown. Superintendent Paul Goren said he agrees that this is a “great opportunity.”
“Well, then,” said Board member Claudia Garrison, “good luck.”