Our Schools, Our Communities
Two years ago, the journey to Community Schools in Durham began with the excitement of one school and the hiring of an organizer. A number of Durham educators attended a training led by the National Association of Education (NEA), and left inspired by the vision of school communities achieving the “6 pillars” model: Strong/Culturally Sustaining Curriculum, High Quality Teaching over High Stakes Testing, Inclusive Leadership, Positive Behavior Practices, Family and Community Partnerships, and Wraparound Support Services. That team secured NEA funding to hire an organizer and start exploring possibilities.
The first phase, checking for 75%+ approval from a staff vote, faced a significant challenge. Educators have been burned by an onslaught of “reform” ideas from outside our buildings that are typically poorly conceived and executed. Without deep staff investment, the bottom-up transformation of school communities is impossible. Club Boulevard got behind the initiative quickly, and dozens of conversations and hours of meetings in four buildings landed over 93% approval from Club, E.K Powe, Lakewood, and Southwest.
Leaders from those schools, with funding from DPS and the County, hired Community School Coordinators and set out to listen. Because this project was so expansive, each team spent most of last year figuring out a) what questions needed asking, b) how to best ask them, and c) how to best use the data. Coordinators and school leaders had to experiment and build the mechanisms that would gather data from students, staff, and parents in ways that overcame previous barriers. With staff leadership and unwavering buy-in from administrators, the Coordinators were able to engage the whole school community in a year-long “Listening Project” that revealed what people loved about their schools, what they thought needed changing, and how they wanted to help make improvements. The breadth, depth, and authenticity of this engagement is rare in most schools and represents a significant breakthrough.
This year, employing the tools of Improvement Science and organizing, Coordinators are supporting leaders in the creation of 3-5 Goal Teams at each school. Using Listening Project data, Goal Teams will identify the root causes of problems, leverage community resources, and take collective action to solve deep challenges like: providing more social/emotional learning and health resources for students, improving the academic outcomes of students of color, more meaningfully engaging low-income parents and parents of color, and creating more effective professional development. Here, Goal Teams will focus on studying root-causes and long-term solutions, while constantly, and scientifically, testing thoughtful change ideas to learn how to improve. Additionally, these teams will be vehicles for leadership development, increasing the agency, skills, and investment in leaders beyond the “usual suspects.”
Each phase of this work has been new, challenging, and unique, as the task of transforming our schools is enormous and complex. Stay tuned for the progress on Goal Teams, and all of the other exciting ways that Community Schools are engaging their people to solve problems and grow together.
By the Numbers
Listening Project Participation
*Club Blvd (100% of teachers, 95% of students, 35% of parents)
*EK Powe (95% of staff, 91% of students, 66% of parents)
*Lakewood (96% of staff, 90% of students, 55% of parents)
*Southwest (98% of staff, 50% of students, 63% of parents)
*Club Blvd (PTA held already-steady participation, but increased participation in PAAC and have parents of color in leadership of PTA)
*EK Powe (500% increase in PTA meeting attendance, 300% increase in participation in Parents of African American Children (PAAC), 500% increase in participation in Latin@ parent events)
*Lakewood (460% increase in PTA meeting attendance, 1025% increase in participation from families of color, built PAAC)
*Southwest (200% increase in PTA meeting attendance, built ALAS for Latin@ parents, built Black Parent Organization)
Roughly 1/3 of the students in Durham’s public schools are Latin@. While most of them are U.S.-born, most of their families are not, and communication is a substantial barrier to inclusion, success, and full agency for students and their families. Though each school already understood this challenge, Listening Project data, and the Listening Project itself, confirmed that understanding and provoked the following actions.
*Southwest Elementary parents started Alianza Latina en Accion de Southwest (ALAS) to provide better support and leadership for Latin@ parents.
*E.K Powe’s Hispanic Heritage Month program, for the first year in recent history, will be created/led by a group of 5 committed Hispanic parents.
Both Club Blvd and Lakewood transformed their Curriculum Night events in the following ways:
*More interpreting equipment and simultaneous interpreting in every grade level breakout room
*Made bilingual staff identifiable to provide support
*Creation of a video that explained, in English and Spanish, standards-based grading so that parents could better understand the system
Finally, in partnership with the Durham Association of Educators, a former DPS educator and union leader is offering FREE Spanish classes for educators and English classes for parents. The classes are at Lakewood on Saturday mornings, but they are open to any DPS staff member or parent.
While most of the Community Schools work has been focused on the Listening Project and building Goal Teams, key community partners are moving in ways that will allow us to better collaborate in the future.
Through the Bass Connections program, 15 faculty and staff from NCCU/Duke have collaborated to design a class focused on Community Schools for students from both campuses. The students have already begun learning about the local effort and its history, and will, over the course of the year:
*Visit successful Community School sites around the country (Cincinnati, Las Cruces, Philadelphia, Orlando, and Milwaukee) to study the ways that they build relationships with community partners
*Conduct their own Listening Project at their respective institutions to better understand how they each relate to Durham Public Schools
*Organize a nationally-attended symposium to bring together Community Schools practitioners, school system leaders, university supporters, and community partners (April 20-22, 2020 in Durham)