To the Editor:
Paul T. Hill (“Re-Creating Public Education in New Orleans,”Commentary, Sept. 21, 2005) made good sense up until the very last paragraph of his essay on the future of the New Orleans school district. His ideas about pooling money at the national level and creating a diverse selection of new schools with strong academic offerings and well-supported teachers are useful. However, he ends with the plea to “avoid letting instruction become tangled up with health care and social services.” I would argue exactly the opposite. Build new schools that include health care and social services.
We have a viable model for just such an endeavor: the full-service community school. These schools are operated through partnerships between the school and community-based public and nonprofit agencies, and serve as the hub of the neighborhood. They are open from early in the morning until late in the evening, on weekends and holidays, and in the summer.
Support services to strengthen children and their families may include preschool, after-school programs, primary-health and mental-health clinics, parent education and services, and community service–or whatever is required in that school or community to overcome barriers to learning. These components are integrated with what goes on in the school, to produce a comprehensive learning environment. The teachers are freed up to teach when they can refer children who need help to specialists.
Hurricane Katrina pulled back the curtains to reveal a devastated school system in a devastated community. The families that return deserve a system of care that will assure them that their children can learn. Community schools offer the possibility of transforming the local schools into new kinds of social institutions that are responsive to the real needs of children, families, and their communities. Schools cannot do it alone.
The writer is a member of the steering committees of the Coalition for Community Schools, in Washington, and the Boston Roundtable for Full-Service Schools.
A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2005 edition of Education Week as Hill’s New Orleans Essay Rests on Flawed Premise