District wins grant to boost connection to services

District wins grant to boost connection to services

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s school district leaders want to connect West End families with health care, social services and an array of other supports in order to boost students’ academic performance and their families’ well being. And they’ve earned a $20,000 grant to help them plot out partnerships with local civic and community organizations that can provide those services.

The San Francisco Foundation planning grant will help the district build new partnerships and grow existing ones with an array of civic and community-based service providers, an approach that’s been put in place in neighboring districts and others across the nation whose leaders have sought to address nonacademic issues that have impacted low-income students’ ability to perform well in school.

“Hopefully what you’d be addressing is if students have needs that can be addressed out of school that’d help them do better in school,” Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said.

McPhetridge said the district is already partnering with local groups to provide services; Alameda Family Services’ health clinics, which are housed at Alameda’s three high schools, is one such example. The district has partnered with that organization, the Alameda Boys & Girls Club and the Alameda Multicultural Center to form a service “hub” at and around the former Woodstock Elementary School that the district hopes to expand.

McPhetridge said he’ll announce the grant award to community groups that could serve as partners on Wednesday, and that district leaders will learn more about community schools approaches at a national conference in San Francisco this May. The district’s grants coordinator, Anne Okahara, listed the total cost of the planning effort as $89,103.

The foundation has been providing grants for similar programs across the Bay Area to help them take root, said Lisa Villarreal, the foundation’s education program officer and vice-chair of the steering committee for the national Coalition for Community Schools. The federal government is also helping to fund such efforts; in December, the Department of Education announced it had awarded California State University East Bay a five-year, $25 million grant to put a citywide program in place targeting families in Hayward’s low-income communities.

“It’s really a movement in the Bay Area,” Villarreal said.

Community schools typically offer extended hours and, in partnership with their community, services that can include counseling, tutoring, parent education and outreach, and business partnerships, Villarreal said. An oft-cited example is the Harlem Children’s Zone, which offers services to students in a nearly 100-block area on a budget of $75 million.

Villarreal said that schools once offered health, social work and other services that are slowly being reintroduced, and that they remain natural hubs for families who need those services. And she said the programs are showing academic and other results.

A 2009 research brief issued by the Coalition for Community Schools showed that community school programs across the country led to increased attendance, test scores and graduation rates. Students in such schools also displayed better behavior and were more likely to demonstrate career aspirations, the brief showed.

Villarreal said school administrators in Redwood City credited a similar program with helping to raise Taft Elementary School out of program improvement, a federally designated status schools that collect Title I federal funds for serving impoverished neighborhoods can reach if the school’s test scores fail to meet mandated targets for several years running. Taft reportedly exited the program in 2008 after raising its schoolwide score from 444 in 1999 to 774 for that year.

McPhetridge said Alameda Unified has struggled to attract funding for a community schools program because the district’s overall test scores are well above state proficiency targets. But nearly every one of Alameda’s Title I-funded schools has entered program improvement, which puts those schools at risk of closure.

Ruby Bridges and Paden elementary schools are in program improvement, as is Wood Middle School. Chipman Middle School was shuttered and a charter school reopened in its place after the school’s test scores failed to improve enough to lift them out of program improvement, while Washington Elementary School is escaping the program by closing and reopening as a global arts magnet.

More than a third of the West End’s residents live in poverty, and the census tract that contains the Alameda Point Collaborative was recognized in a national study as being one of the five poorest in America. Forty-two percent of West End residents are immigrants, and 20 percent are homeless, according to statistics the district submitted as part of its grant application.

The grant money will also be used to find ways to target an achievement gap that persists between students from different ethnic groups. While the district’s overall dropout rate is 12.1 percent, the rate is more than double that for Alameda Unified’s African American students, the application said. The district’s Asian students score an average of 883 points on the state’s academic performance index, while African American students average 714 and Latino students, 749, it said.

McPhetridge said the programs aren’t being put in place specifically to pull the schools out of program improvement, though he acknowledged that a community schools program could help the district improve test scores.

He said Woodstock, which also houses Island High School, the Bay Area School of Enterprise and the Woodstock Child Development Center, and could also soon be home to the Alameda Adult School, offers easy, one-stop access to services for families whose children attend those schools also Encinal High, Ruby Bridges, Paden and Washington.

The district has begun offering the California PTA-sponsored School Smarts Parent Academy to help immigrant families better navigate the local schools, and it has contracted with Bay Area Community Resources to provide after-school programs at two high schools and three elementary schools.

Other services the district could seek out for its families include mental health and substance abuse counseling, which are offered by Alameda Family Services; and tax help, which McPhetridge said the Alameda Multicultural Center provides.

Boys & Girls Club Executive Director George Phillips said the school district has long partnered with the club, which holds a $1-a-year, long-term lease on school district property next to Woodstock.

“I think this is just a way to refine what we do and take another look at it and improve it,” Phillips said of the effort to be funded by the district’s planning grant.

In addition to sports and a technology lab, the club offers an after-school homework club, and work on its kitchen was just completed. The club also hosts dental clinics and additional medical services like a Breathmobile that stops by to offer exams and treatment for asthma.

Phillips said Alameda Family Services “is here a lot,” and that two nearby schools – the Academy of Alameda charter middle school and Bay Area School of Enterprise – regularly use space at the recently built club.

“We’re doing a lot of things now that I think are complementary to what the school district’s needs are,” Phillips said. “We’re ready to continue to develop our partnership.”