State, city support welcome for NYC community schools

The 130 community schools across NYC offer mental health care, vision screenings and eyeglasses, as well as nutritional programs, opportunities for parent involvement, and extra educational time before, during and after school — and even during summer vacation.

Each is different, catering to the needs of students, parents and community. One offers a washer and dryer for families who have nowhere to do laundry. Some are trying mobile dental clinics. The collective goal is the same: to lift failing schools by combining education with necessary services, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. By giving a student a winter coat, she might be more likely to go to school on a frigid morning. By providing a student with a free pair of glasses, he might more easily learn to read or write.

NYC has pledged $150 million to its community schools. Now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shone a statewide spotlight on the concept. The state budget provides NYC with $28 million more, plus extra money for struggling schools. That should help the city expand services and transition additional schools to the community model.

It’s a holistic, potentially game-changing concept for the region that could shift the way we think about schools. Failing schools and struggling students are not in trouble only because of the poor quality of education. Schools must deal with underlying, intractable issues, from hunger and poverty to family involvement and medical care.

NYC took the lead, and the state’s contribution will help. To make a real difference, the state must measure initial success and, if there are promising results, contribute even more in the future so that far more schools can benefit.

Community schools must include significant parent and community engagement, and a willing, creative staff. They need leaders specifically hired to coordinate between nonprofits and the schools to oversee programs from within each school. Then, state and city officials must track each school’s performance. Criteria must be established, best practices shared, and the process and results made public. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. Accountability is key. Our children’s future is at stake.