Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dallas ISD Pulls Plug on South Dallas "Community Schools" Pilot | Dallas Observer

Dallas ISD Pulls Plug on South Dallas "Community Schools" Pilot | Dallas Observer:

Dallas ISD Pulls Plug on South Dallas "Community Schools" Pilot


On a sunny morning in early May, a wayward DART bus pulled to a stop in front of Paul Laurence Dunbar Learning Center in South Dallas. From the porches of tumbledown homes, neighbors glanced with mild curiosity as the school’s principal, Dionel Waters, stepped aboard. Waiting for him on the bus was an array of local dignitaries, including a city council member, a state representative, a U.S. Congressman, the Dallas County judge, and the guest of honor, Robert Kaplan, the president of the Dallas Fed. The riders hadaccepted an activist groups’ invitation to tour hardscrabble Dallas neighborhoods that remain untouched by the region’s booming economy.
Waters stood at the front of the idling bus with a microphone and described for Kaplan some of Dunbar’s challenges. The previous school year, all but two of the campus’s 594 students qualified as low-income. The median household income for the surrounding neighborhood, which borders the sprawling parking lots on Fair Park’s eastern edge, is around $10,000 per year. Broken families are the norm, as are parents with criminal records. Unemployment in the area is staggering, with only a third of working-age men and around 40 percent of working-age women with jobs, according to census data.
Then, Waters pivoted. Together with Hank Lawson, who works for the community development nonprofit Frazier Revitalization Inc., Waters described a vision for transformational change at Dunbar. With support from the Texas Organizing Project, which organized the bus tour, Dunbar would open the 2016-17 school year as Dallas ISD’s first ever “community school.”
Community schools are built on the idea that education doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Poverty levels, family structure, health and nutrition, emotional well-being, and all manner of other outside factors impact academic performance and school quality. Creating a better school, then, requires addressing not only what happens in the classroom but outside social and economic factors as well.
Exactly what a community school looks like depends on the specific needs of the individual school and the surrounding community. Generally speaking, though, the model emphasizes getting parents, community members and teachers greater input in campus decision-making; forging partnerships with local businesses and nonprofits to provide programming and services the school can’t; and finding non-punitive ways to address student behavior.
It is billed as a more humane alternative to No Child Left Behind-style school reform, which can punish poor and heavily minority schools for poor performance without doing much to address root causes.
Community schools are meant to be transformational. A report released in February by the Center for Popular Democracy profiled eight campuses and school districts across the country that have implemented the community schools model with tremendous success.
One of the more dramatic turnarounds took place in Austin. Webb Middle School, a perennially low-performing campus in a working class Hispanic neighborhood in northeast Austin, was on the brink of closure in 2007 when neighbors rallied and convinced the district to give them a final chance to save the school. They turned to the community schools model and crafted a detailed plan based on feedback from parents and neighbors.


The school restored music and art to the curriculum, adding band, orchestra and a dance troupe. The Boys and Girls Club began offering after-school Dallas ISD Pulls Plug on South Dallas "Community Schools" Pilot | Dallas Observer:

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