Missouri School System Uses Community School Precepts to Fashion a Dramatic Turnaround

In case you are not a regular reader of the Washington Post, Emma Brown’s story on the Jennings, Missouri school district is worth your time.

Jennings abuts the town of Ferguson, MO, site of last year’s controversial shooting of Michael Brown. Jennings has long been one of the lowest-performing school districts in the state, and, not surprisingly, is also one of the poorest districts. Median income in Jennings is $28,429. Despite its less than stellar past, in 2015 92 percent of the districts senior high school class graduated on time.

Much of the credit for the stunning turnabout goes to its superintendent, Dr. Tiffany Anderson. She has taken the core concepts of the Community School and put them into practice in her district. This means providing healthcare, clothing and sufficient food to her students, as well as Hope House, a dwelling for its homeless children.

Dr. Anderson’s efforts to serve the whole child and his or her family has resulted in academic success, better attendance rates and full accreditation for the district for the first time in many years.

“Schools can do so much to really impact poverty,” Anderson said. “Some people think if you do all this other stuff, it takes away from focusing on instruction, when really it ensures that you can take kids further academically.”

A similar approach to educating the whole child is underway in Broome County, as part of the Promise Zone initiative, a partnership among Binghamton University, Broome-Tioga BOCES and the Broome County Department of Mental Health.

A comprehensive analysis of the Community School movement is the subject of a forthcoming book by Dr. Laura Bronstein, Dean, Binghamton University’s College of Community and Public Affairs, and her colleague, Dr. Susan Mason, of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University.

Dr. Anderson has shown that the approach can make a world of difference to a community struggling to succeed. Their story is a revelation.

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