Milwaukee Public Schools has been getting some well-deserved attention for its commitment to the Community Schools model–which has grown from the advocacy of educators in the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.
The district established the first three community schools in 2015 and has now expanded to a total of seven thriving community schools. Early growth shows improved school culture and climate, significant increases in literacy rates in early grades, dramatic growth in school and community partnerships, increased math proficiency in early grades, increased community engagement, and increased college and career pathways for students.
Authentic Community Schools link culturally relevant classroom practices with community services, social supports and neighborhood engagement. The Center for Popular Democracy identifies six research-based strategies that allow for greater student-centered learning and community investment. These strategies include: strong culturally relevant curriculum, high quality teaching; shared leadership; community support services; restorative practices; and family and community engagement.
Milwaukee’s early success with the model prompted National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Vice President Becky Pringle, and Secretary Treasurer Princess Moss and members of the NEA Executive Council to visit. NEA’s trip signals the growing interest to strengthen and build the public Community Schools model nationwide.
The visit started with a trip to James Madison Academic Campus (JMAC), where the MPS Administration shared successes and challenges with implementing the Community Schools model.
JMAC’s Community School Coordinator and Parent Coordinator provided their expertise to the group. These two positions are critical to establishing engaged parents and community for successful school outcomes.
Following the visit to JMAC, the group made their way over to the newest Community School in Milwaukee, Lincoln Avenue, where the school’s “Lincoln Cheer Team” greeted them.
Lincoln Avenue’s parent coordinator showed off the school’s Parent Center. The center provides a hub for parents to increase engagement in the school’s operation as well as expand access to needed resources, such as Internet and laundry facilities.
Ryan Hurley of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County spoke on how his organization facilitates community partnerships by helping identify and mobilize neighborhood groups and resources. These neighborhood collaborations provide the school with additional support such as access to health services or other critical needs that must be met to ensure learning occurs.
Finally NEA leadership got to see the model in action. They toured several rooms, including a bilingual kindergarten classroom. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Becky Pringle, and Princess Moss used the opportunity to work and speak with students to experience how students are excelling. The early results on the Community School model are encouraging, but there’s no greater proof of the model’s success than seeing students thriving firsthand. We know when our students’ needs are met they flourish.
As the model grows nationwide, we look forward to making Milwaukee a place for other NEA educators to come and learn about how the model can enhance the quality of classroom practices and increase community involvement. Public community schools galvanize our educators around a vision inclusive of community control of public education which stands in stark contrast to the corporate destruction of our public schools system.
Learn more about Community Schools here.