Mayor Jim Kenney talks with staff at Southwark School about expanding community school opportunities.

Mayor Jim Kenney talks with staff at Southwark School about expanding community school opportunities.

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Introducing Philly’s first 9 ‘community schools’: Who made the cut

Nine schools from across the city are set to become “community schools” within the next year, meaning they’ll be transformed from just schools into anchors of the neighborhood offering services to kids and adults in the area.

First-year Mayor Jim Kenney — fresh off a major political win in passing a soda tax meant to fund some of his educational initiatives — along with Council President Darrell Clarke and Superintendent Bill Hite announced Monday the following schools will be the first nine to be assigned a full-time community school coordinator:

  1. William Cramp Elementary School
  2. Murrell Dobbins CTE High School
  3. F.S. Edmonds Elementary School
  4. Edward Gideon Elementary School
  5. Kensington Health Sciences Academy
  6. Logan Elementary School
  7. Southwark Elementary School
  8. South Philadelphia High School
  9. Tilden Middle School

Here’s where those schools are located:

Coordinators for each schools are expected to be hired between now and August who will assess each school and the surrounding neighborhood throughout the fall to develop a program implementation plan. Those plans are expected to be completed by June 2017.

The process for selecting the schools began last December and 31 schools completed formal applications. The mayor’s Office of Education hosted town hall forums, conducted site visits and held meetings with stakeholders in the neighborhoods up for consideration, according to the mayor’s chief education officer Otis Hackney.

“These are our children, every single zip code…,” Kenney said during a press conference Monday. “If we take that ownership of our children, along with all of us together, they can’t fail.”

Establishing 25 community schools across the city was a major tenet of Kenney’s first-year budget and his platform heading into office. The former city councilman plans to spend some $40 million over the next five years in order to develop the schools.

When Kenney was mayor-elect, he and Clarke traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, which has rolled out a successful community schools program of its own. There, the Philly leaders toured the schools that had health, social and neighborhood services directly in the schools.

At Oyler Community Learning Center in Cincinnati, the school had vision, medical and dental clinics, a food bank, a day-care center and a mental-health wing. At community schools in Baltimore, the schools are outfitted with dental services, asthma screenings, immunizations and mental health resources. There’s also a focus on general wellness and programs like Muffins for Moms, Donuts for Dads and group yoga infused into the day.

In Philly, each school will have a different coordinator based at the school who will oversee the process of adding additional services. That means each school will probably offer slightly different services based on the needs of the neighborhood.

The jury’s still out on whether or not community schools actually lead to better academic performance among students. But from the city’s perspective, that’s not necessarily the point. The administration has little control over how the district administers academics — what it can control is how those schools impact the communities they’re in.

“The community school approach is more geared on meeting the needs of the whole child,” Kenney’s education spokeswoman Deana Gamble said earlier this year, “and in doing so, we certainly want to alleviate the barriers to academic achievement.”

In his proposed budget, Kenney recommended spending $4 million on the community schools plan in fiscal year 2017 and $10 million after. In total, it would be about a $39.5 million investment from the city, or about $1.6 million per school. The administration will also seek state and federal grants, as well as funds from businesses and nonprofits.

Moving forward, the schools will likely be selected earlier in the year so that full-time coordinators can be placed in the spring of the previous school year, giving them more time to draft a specific plan for the school they’re serving.

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