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Community Schools…An Old Concept Come Anew

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a conference that really left me with the feeling that this wasn’t going to be yet another conference program that I’d drop in a file.  Change is happening.  I guess it’s been a week for change in our world.

During the conference we talked about ways to make public schools in every community the center for life in the community.  We focused on how to make better use of the financial and intellectual resources we have at the local level so as to make this “ideal” a reality.

The community school concept is a historical model that came back into vogue about ten years ago I believe.  Though this model may never have left some small towns, it is a model that makes sense today on a broader sense- especially in new urban communities where “smart, multi-purpose, thinking for the benefit of people” is very vogue.

There really is no reason why a school shouldn’t serve an important, central role for the broadest cross section of the community — and I’m talking beyond its intended and often standard optional uses (e.g., facility for scouts and girl guide meetings etc.).  What about a place for seniors to gather, a fitness place for individuals on the weekend, a facility for residents to come meet and have dinner together as a large group one night during the week, etc.)?

With the national and global economy being in tatters, we’re going to be seeing more initiatives that will be based on practical and creative ideas that allow us to do more with less.  Perhaps it’s about time we dig deep for solutions for our most vulnerable public schools.

Nothing saddens me more than when I hear about all the failed levies for local schools.  When community citizens turn these revenue generating options for schools down that’s a death knell for a lot of school programs that will have a detrimental effect on the quality of education delivered to students in that community.  Of course communities that turn down levies for their local schools are usually those that need the resources for kids the most.

I guess those residents without children don’t really care about that, or they share the other popular sentiment – school board staff aren’t able to allocate and manage resources effectively so they aren’t going to direct any more dollars their way.

Wherever the blame lies, the reality is the kids pay for it.

Nothing makes a conference more enjoyable than when the focus isn’t just on talking about the problems but on finding solutions and that’s what we did yesterday.

We talked about making the school relevant to the whole community.

We’re an aging population. In my region more than 70% of residents DO NOT have children in school – and that’s a statistic that is close to a nationwide trend.  So to continue to make our schools the center of community attention and support we have to find ways to make the community feel they have some demonstrable ownership for schools (since they in fact do as taxpayers).

What we don’t want is the scary reality that we see appearing in places like Arizona and Florida (see my review of Leisureville).  Age segregation benefits no one – especially those who are aging.  Our children are the ones that will be making decisions in the future that impact our care. Why would we want to alienate them by sequestering ourselves in age restricted settings?

But self interests aside, when we all can be confident that even the most vulnerable of high-risk children are being educated adequately and compassioinately in our public schools, doesn’t that make us feel good? As much as some folks think they can continue to live in silos or in segregated havens, it never stays that way.  We are a community whether we acknowledge it or not.  That makes me smile 🙂

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