The University of Chicago News Office
March 4, 2004 Press Contact: William Harms
(773) 702-8356

Community schools boost education by supporting children, families

Nationwide movement strengthens communities

The Chicago Public Schools are joining school systems across the country in creating a new kind of school: a community school. Social workers in community schools hold leadership positions and work to meet children’s needs at the intersection of social development and academic achievement.

CPS has launched an unprecedented campaign to turn 100 of its schools into community schools, institutions much more tied to their neighborhoods. The program was initiated in 2002 and currently includes 20 schools, which are seen as anchors in their communities.

Under a new program at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, social workers will be educated beginning in the fall of 2004 to help facilitate the connections between the school and the community. That effort is supported with a $1 million grant from Bank One.

In order to function effectively, the schools need outside resources and are assisted by partners such as foundations and social service agencies. Resource coordinators in community schools work with outside agencies and the school community. These leaders are sometimes called community school directors, or in the case of CPS, resource coordinators.

“CPS is committed to expanding the number of schools that are community schools, and the resource coordinators are vital to that work,” said Tawa Jogunosimi, program manager, CPS Community Schools Initiative, and a 2001 graduate of SSA. “A master’s level social worker is well qualified for this role, and the students from SSA have exceptional preparation that will make them excellent leaders in the schools.

“The resource coordinator needs to do many things, such as working with parents, teachers, community leaders, funders and others to tap into their talents for the interests of the individual school,” she said. “SSA graduates are creative problem solvers, and those are the kind of people we need for this position.”

School districts throughout the country have begun increasingly drawing on outside agencies to help in their work. In New York, for instance, an extensive program is underway with funding and staff assistance from the Children’s Aid Society. There the coordinators of the collaboration between schools and community organizations are called community school directors.

Delegations from Chicago, including Arne Duncan, CPS CEO, have been to New York to visit the community schools in the city and others in the area, said Jane Quinn, assistant executive director of the Children’s Aid Society and a 1969 graduate of SSA.

The community school directors in New York work with part-time staff and others who bring enrichment opportunities into the schools such as sports and arts activities. “The community school directors must have strong interpersonal skills because they need to build relationships, see the bigger picture, and also attend to detail,” she said. Social workers are well qualified for the assignment because they have strong problem-solving and interpersonal skills. Those strengths help them negotiate, build trust in the neighborhood, and maneuver through the regulations that are often part of school administration, she said.

In North Carolina, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District has a similar program in its 15 schools. Graig Meyer, a 1998 graduate of SSA, oversees a mentoring program for the schools that brings volunteers and agencies into the system’s schools.

His training in social work has provided an important perspective on the work of schools, Meyer said. “Teachers and others in schools are used to thinking about issues within the context of the school’s four walls, but a social worker thinks of the larger community. A social worker also notices development issues among students in addition to academic ones that teachers notice. Social workers look at psychological, social and physical development,” he said.

The schools take advantage of outside agencies to bring recreational and other activities to the schools in the afternoon after the close of classes, he added.
Last modified at 11:47 AM CST on Thursday, March 04, 2004.

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