Below are the full written remarks submitted to the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education at its July 26th, 2017 meeting where the topic of Community Schools was discussed. To read Board Member K. Alexander Wallace' position on Community Schools, click here.
July 26, 2017
To Chancellor Kirwan and the esteemed members of the Commission,
I bring you greetings on behalf of the Board of Education for Prince George’s County, Maryland and the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) – home to one of the nation’s largest and high performing urban public school systems. My name is K. Alexander Wallace and I have the honor of serving the Seventh District on the PGCPS Board of Education. In this role, I have the duty of chairing our Board’s Committee on Family and Community Engagement, chairing our school system’s Task Force on Equitable Education, serving on the Washington Area Boards of Education, as well as, most recently, being confirmed to serve on the Maryland Association of Boards of Education’s Board of Directors.
While our school system has certainly wrestled with operational woes over the years, I aim to speak with an abundance of clarity when I say that, in PGCPS, opportunities are bountiful for students, families, communities, and employees. One of the many opportunities that we are gearing up to advance is an initiative that, at its core, looks at our students as more than just test takers and data points; an initiative that, while still very neophyte in its formation within our county, has already produced tremendous success in its impact on our students, families, communities, and employees. This initiative of embracing the national Community Schools framework is one that has brought to the table a litany of elected officials, collective bargaining units, governmental agencies, nonprofits, as well as members and organizations from both the faith and business communities.
In Prince George’s County, we have launched our form of community schools, entitled TNI@School. The TNI@School: Prince George's County’s Community Schools Network is one result of the highly-successful Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI), first launched in 2012, through Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III's vision to achieve a Thriving Economy, Great Schools, Safe Neighborhoods, and High Quality Healthcare by targeting cross-governmental resources to neighborhoods that have significant needs. TNI grew out of the successful Summer Crime initiative, a police-directed endeavor that put extra resources in five neighborhoods acutely affected by violent crime. We evaluated data collected and determined that we could have a greater impact on raising the quality of life in areas deemed most in need of help by taking a more holistic approach to addressing the challenges of troubled communities.
TNI@School places targeted resources in some of the schools in the TNI Neighborhoods and is designed to remove barriers to academic success, support improved academic performance, and connect students and families to resources. The goal is to help ensure students are resilient, successful, and ready to learn. PGCPS supports TNI through the strategic placement of full day kindergarten programs where they are needed most and provides funding for supportive services through TNI community partners. TNI@School partners with different organizations to provide in-school services for students and families through referrals made by Prince George's County Department of Social Service's Community Resource Advocates (CRAs), the cornerstone staff members of TNI@School.
TNI@School: Prince George's Community Schools Network has adopted The Coalition for Community Schools' framework. In our county, we deeply believe that community schools are both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. There are a number of national models and local community school initiatives that share a common set of principles: fostering strong partnerships, sharing accountability for results, setting high expectations, building on the community’s strengths, and embracing diversity and innovative solutions.
TNI@School is home to forty community schools, each strategically identified as part of the larger TNI movement. The work of TNI@School reaches all levels of learning, from elementary through high school, with customized programming tailored to the most urgent needs of the school community, its students, and families. To this end, TNI@School fosters strategic foundations with community-based resources. Surveying, understanding, and partnering to meet the needs of our 40 schools is the goal And making the schools centers for community, with tangible, sustainable resources that make a difference, is the mission.
Through this initiative, the school system has multiple partnerships that make this work come to fruition. Resource Coordination and Referral, Behavioral Health Counseling, Case Management, Positive Youth Development, and College and Career Readiness are leveraged to engage students and families to collaborate with the school as a center for community.
The TNI@School program is overseen by an Executive leadership coalition that is comprised of senior level executives from our county’s Office of the County Executive, public school system, library system, and the Health Department, Social Services Department, Family Services Department.
Key Program Successes
- 40 TNI@School sites where students, families, and communities can receive wraparound services to remove barriers to academic and social success, support improved academic performance, and stabilized families.
- 1,144 individuals who were served by Community Resource Advocates through programming and partnerships during the 2015-2016 School Year.
- 665 students who were served by behavioral health partners during the 2015-2016 School Year. Services included individual, group, and family counseling to insured, uninsured, documented, and undocumented students.
- Partnered with The Urban Institute to conduct a program review to create a Results Framework to best measure the impact of the TNI@School program on the population served.
- 250+ families and hundreds more students served at school-based food markets and take-home weekend meal bags.
- 93% of students who received graduation, promotion, college, and career readiness services and were promoted after the 2015-2016 School Year.
In the spring of the 2016-2017 School Year, the Prince George’s County Board of Education, in partnership with the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services, hosted a Community Schools tour throughout the county. During this tour, members of the county’s community were able to view, firsthand, the benefits of having resources for students, families, communities, and employees at two schools – Samuel P. Massie Academy, a Pre-K-8th grade school, and Bladensburg High School, a comprehensive 9th-12th grade school. From listening to student and parent testimonies to witnessing the school-nonprofit partnerships’ impacts on student achievement, attendance, and behavior, every single participant stated that this tour was inspiring, enlightening, and solidified their support for this initiative throughout the county.
In the upcoming academic year, my committee, the Board’s Family and Community Engagement Committee, will be tasked with spearheading the community dialogue and policy development to expand the scope and broaden the impact of this initiative throughout Prince George’s County. We are encouraged to learn that community schools are being discussed as a measure of equity within the work of this robust commission. Furthermore, we ask that strong fiscal and administrative support be considered as an addition to the commission’s final report to the Maryland General Assembly. Whether it is a partnership between a local government and a local public school system like in Prince George’s County or follows a different format, as seen in other regions of our state and nation, the central purpose of community schools remains the same and should be equitably accessible to Maryland’s youth.
I conclude my written testimony with a statement that I have said countless times in numerous ways in a plethora of meetings. In public education, our focus as policymakers, administrators, and educators, for too long, has been driven by quantitative data instead of a mixture of that and qualitative societal realizations. Yes, of course, we would like for all students to be proficient in all subject areas and all of our graduates to be adequately prepared for post-secondary education opportunities. However, when a child comes to our schoolhouse doors suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome because s/he witnessed a gun battle the night before in their neighborhood, we cannot expect that child’s primary focus to be their education. When parents or guardians have to decide whether or not they can fiscally afford to take off work to attend an evening school event or take their children to the doctor, we cannot expect full participation in Parent-Teacher Organizations and student attendance to be at optimum levels. When educators have to literally carve out 15-20 minutes of their lesson time to allow for behavioral disruptions by students because they have nowhere else to turn for emotional and mental supports for students who need it, we cannot expect high morale from school-based staff and administrators. These aforementioned examples, as well as a slew of others, are the reasons why community schools matter to us in Prince George’s County and must matter to us all, as fellow Marylanders.
Once more, Chancellor Kirwan and members of the Commission, on behalf of the Prince George’s County Board of Education and Prince George’s County Public Schools, I thank you for the opportunity to submit my written testimony and profoundly ask for consideration from the commission to recommend community schools as a funded equity tool within the State of Maryland funding formula.
With warm regards,
K. Alexander Wallace
Board Member, District 7