School Board approves pilot program

Published 10:06 pm Friday, December 12, 2014

A charitable organization that marshals community resources to improve student achievement and reduce dropouts has been green-lighted for Elephant’s Fork Elementary School.

If results are seen there in the next semester, Communities in Schools could also be allowed into Booker T. Washington and Mack Benn Jr. elementary schools, with more possibly following, the School Board decided Thursday.

The nonprofit organization currently operates in select schools in Portsmouth, Hampton and Norfolk.

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A youth advocate in New York City started Communities in Schools in the 1970s, with the idea of bringing community resources into public schools to make them accessible to at-risk students in a coordinated and accountable manner, according to the organization’s website. Since then, it has spread nationwide.

Academics, behavior and attendance improved for more than seven of every 10 students served in 2013-2014, the organization claims.

After hearing from Quentin Brown, executive director at Communities in Schools of Hampton Roads, the board voted unanimously to try the program, which will require a donation of about $10,000 for each school.

“We know in the communities we serve there are outstanding resources. We also know there are students that are going without the resources and services they need,” Brown said.

Brown said it costs Communities in Schools $60,000 a school to place site coordinators, who work with the principal and staff to identify at-risk students. The target group usually ends up being between 5 and 10 percent of the student population, he said.

“Our job is to identify those students and connect with the appropriate resources and services they require,” Brown said.

“We are not in the business of replacing or duplicating anything. Our job is to function as a coordinator and collaborator.”

Board members had some questions for Brown, including about access to student records, site coordinator qualifications and whether the district would have the ability to fire site coordinators.

Brown said the organization requires parental consent before helping a student, and coordinators require a four-year degree and undergo additional training and criminal background check. Firing ability lies with Communities in Schools.

Superintendent Deran Whitney said he is strongly in favor of the program and feels the business community would support it, adding that principals at the three elementary schools are “very much interested in it.”

The three schools suggested for the program face some of the district’s biggest academic challenges. Elephant’s Fork is accredited with warning in English and math, and saw state intervention this year due to inadequate performance among historically struggling subgroups.

Booker T. Washington is accredited with warning in English, math and science. Mack Benn is accredited with warning in reading.

Board Chairman Michael Debranski proposed the one-school trial for Communities in Schools.