Kenney moving ahead on community schools

Posted: March 23, 2016

Mayor Kenney's administration will select from five to seven schools this summer to become community schools, with the city and private sector providing health, social, emotional, and after-school services.

Kenney wants to establish 25 such schools citywide in the next four years. They would be funded with $40 million, paid for by Kenney's proposed sugary-drinks tax as well as contributions from nonprofits and the business community.

Schools would not be selected until after City Council approves a budget by June 30, said Susan Gobreski, Kenney's director for community schools.

"I'm very confident we're going to be looking at a developing community-schools program in the fall," Gobreski said in a briefing about the plan with reporters Monday. She said the mayor's full agenda - which includes pre-K and rec center upgrades in addition to community schools - will benefit every child in the city, and "I think there's a lot of support for it."

Starting this month, Kenney's staff will meet with community members, service providers, and the School District to determine what criteria should go into picking the first schools - all traditional public schools, not charters.

Gobreski said in coming years the city might consider charter schools.

By September, each of the selected schools will have a full-time coordinator, paid by the city, to help beef up services and bring in partners.

Gobreski said the city is still developing its parameters, but will look for schools in high-poverty areas with principals willing to make changes. Both high schools and elementary schools will be considered.

So far, 43 of the district's approximately 200 schools have expressed interest in the plan, said Karen Lynch, chief of student support services at the district.

Lynch noted some schools already have strong partnerships with the community and with the city. Currently, 100 schools have therapeutic services.

A formal application process will be announced in late spring or early summer.

Holly Gonzalez, the city's deputy community schools director, outlined myriad programs she has seen implemented in community schools in other cities.

Some schools have dental and asthma screenings and immunization support, she said. Others partner with the Department of Recreation or Police Athletic Leagues to implement physical activities. "There's a lot around wellness," Gonzalez said. "Muffins with Mom, doughnuts with Dad, group yoga, all fused into the school day to create a more caring environment."

Gonzalez has also seen programs where retirees are put into schools to help with literacy initiatives, and partnerships with universities to provide tutors or club mentors.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke and the teachers union have already voiced approval for the initiative, which has seen some success in cities like Cincinnati.

Gobreski said this is the right time for the initiative.

"The politics of disruption have not worked," she said. "We've spent a lot of time and money trying to figure out how to avoid spending a lot of time and money to actually meet the needs of children."

jterruso@phillynews.com

215-854-5506 @juliaterruso

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