The Department of Education and the city’s new “Children’s Cabinet” could both be headed for an overhaul if Mayor Bill de Blasio follows a new slate of suggestions for supporting community schools, one of the mayor’s central education priorities.
The 81-page report, released Tuesday, comes as the de Blasio administration continues to plan its initiative to establish 100 community schools during its first term. Backed with a $52 million, four-year grant from the state, the city plans to launch programs this year at 40 schools, which will partner with outside organizations or city agencies to provide social services during and after the school day.
The report, produced by Children’s Aid Society and the Center for New York City Affairs with input from a range of city officials and de Blasio allies, is more detailed than most policy papers of its kind and likely to be influential. “Some of the strongest advocates for community schools now hold key positions of power in city government and are poised to convert the current piecemeal set of efforts into a system-wide strategy,” the report notes — advocates that include Richard Buery, the former head of the Children’s Aid Society who is now heading the city’s community schools effort.
The report underscores the importance of city agencies working together to help schools become hubs of social services. (Roughly 100 city schools already offer such services, which range from free eye and dental care to counseling and job training for parents and family members.) Offering those services after school hours requires outside providers to spend money on custodial staff and security, for example — a complicated and expensive process that city agencies could streamline.
Most specifically, the paper suggests reimagining the makeup and mission of the de Blasio’s newly-created “Children’s Cabinet” so that it guides the community schools initiative. The cabinet, headed by Buery, first convened the heads of 22 city agencies in April to improve child welfare by providing new avenues for communication.
But “that set of goals is too narrow to maintain the long-term interest of participating agencies and the public” and the group too unwieldy to make fast-paced changes, the report’s authors write. Instead, they suggest a leaner collection of 10 agency commissioners partner with the existing advisory board for the community schools initiative.
Parts of the Department of Education should also be restructured, the writers say, suggesting a new office of school-community partnerships and going so far as to list the names of top officials to helm not-yet-created committees (suggesting a “coordinating team” be overseen by Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson, for example).
The report’s writers note that community schools will need new measures of accountability. Schools’ Comprehensive Education Plans should be rewritten to account for how partnerships with outside organizations match up with the school’s other strategies for lifting student achievement. Principal and school evaluations could also take into account how well community schools work with outside organizations and welcome families into their schools.
A spokesperson for de Blasio said the administration was reviewing the report’s recommendations, and said the schools and outside organizations that will be included in the initial 40-school program will be announced later in the fall. At Tuesday’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, Chancellor Carmen Fariña reiterated her support for community schools, noting that arts and “health and wellness” programs should be considered by schools looking for partnerships.
Here is the full report: