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'Community Schools' Plan Grows

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The New York Department of Education is expected to begin soliciting proposals this week for six pilot sites to expand an ambitious new state program that uses public schools as the hub for social services in economically depressed areas.

The six schools chosen would join four pilot "community schools" that began offering a variety of extended services earlier this year.

The idea of using public schools as centers to help communities cope with social and economic troubles--and in the process, help raise the academic achievement of local students--has gained new attention recently from Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and other state leaders.

"Schools in distressed areas have to do more," said Claudio R. Prieto, the education department's assistant commissioner for policy analysis, "because the needs of the students and impediments to learning are significantly greater."

In 1985, largely at the urging of Martin C. Barell, chancellor of the state board of regents, the board adopted a statement that laid the groundwork for exploring ways in which schools could assist community-renewal efforts, Mr. Prieto said.

The pilot schools are focusing on "down-to-earth, pragmatic approaches, using existing funding as much as possible," he said. The project has a $1.5-million budget this year. Schools in the program typically remain open for much longer than the traditional school day, he said, and in some cases operate seven days a week on a year-round basis.

Participating schools might offer day-care services, pre-kindergarten programs, homework assistance, and recreational programs, he said, or merely serve as "leavening agents or brokers" with outside agencies that provide such services.

"Schools are being urged not to view those additional three hours, for example, as an add-on," he said, "but are being asked to develop a comprehensive, 12-hour school and service program that could offer both academic and other types of services throughout the day."

Another major goal of the project, Mr. Prieto said, "is to enroll parents as partners in the education of students." To attract parents, the community schools could offer programs ranging from adult education to dental clinics, he said.

Governor Cuomo, in a speech last month at the convocation of the University of the State of New York, cited support for the 10 community schools as one of his top four education priorities for the year. The state's new education commissioner, Thomas Sobol, who was inaugurated at the same ceremony, is also a strong supporter of the idea.--ws

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