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Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams Speaks On Community Schools

What does education mean to you? The one-word answers from community residents attending the November 9 AVillage meeting included these: “opportunity, equity, freedom, awakening, and access.“

AVillage was honored to welcome Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams as our featured speaker for the weekly Thursday meeting. Approximately forty people attended last week - members of AVillage who gathered in the name of getting a clearer idea of “community schools,” which now include Giffen Memorial Elementary School in the South End. Click here for video of the meeting, which included poignant questions and open discussion.

Education is nuanced and different for every parent and student, and the Community School concept is equally nuanced. On Thursday we got both the general concept and specific examples of what the Albany School District wants to achieve.  Every students’ needs fluctuates around variables such as home environment, health disparities, social issues, and more. Too often, those variables become barriers to learning. 

The goal of the community school model is to break down those barriers by supporting student enrichment, engagement, and academic participation through a symbiotic relationship between community organizations, parents, students, and teachers.  This is going to look different for every school, but the hope is to that schools become a consortium of sorts, so that each institution can learn from one another about what works better for them.
Superintendent Adams previously served as the school associate superintendent of Nevada’s Clark County School District, the fifth largest school district in the nation. She is no stranger to urban settings. Throughout the meeting parents and concerned community members discussed how to tackle the issues that are unique to Albany. With her were other school officials including Community Engagement Coordinator Cathy Edmondson, who is a key link between the school, parents, and community members. From Giffen Memorial Elementary School were Principal Jasmine Brown, and Community Site Coordinator, Amanda Boyd. Together, they formed a picture of the type of collaboration the community school model is meant to foster.

Superintendent Adams spoke of the significance of measuring progress through the lenses of academic achievement and enrichment. It’s not just one or the other, but a balance of increasing the quality of both. She also takes note of the power of language. “Success is how we define it. We can’t put our children in a box to always define what success looks like. We want them to have the opportunities and the possibilities to determine what that success looks like for them with our guidance and with our support.”

Each school will conduct a needs assessment among parents and families that evaluates how the schools can get from where they are to where they hope to be. It also helps them direct where the fiscal pieces fit, and informs the budget. Former school Board President Kenny Bruce asked about the concrete implications of community schools. He knows that this model is an ongoing evaluative process, and that the needs assessment is a key piece, but he wanted to know more about specifics, not the abstract. “...obviously you want the student to learn more,” he said. “But how does the community school model translate into results?”

Superintendent Adams’s response was centered on the real-life examples that proved that community schools work. “...This is a model that we have explored in New York City and throughout the country. So, tutoring examples: what does that tutoring look like. Is it targeted specifically on what I need as a student? If I need phonemic awareness does the tutoring address that? Within community schools there may be a mentoring program that’s at the school where the community supports the school.” According to Adams, this is an example that has already seen success at Arbor Hill. There, the community school program helps to align tutoring with what the student’s academic needs are.

Community organizations can also fill the gap in extracurricular programs. Superintendent Adams uses sports as a hypothetical example. “Who knew that students that may be interested in lacrosse? Then you know what? We have a community organization that is primed and ready to bring that to the school,” she said.

As far as how community schools fit into the ongoing workings of the school system? “We want to address the whole child - social and emotional well being of our students to make sure that if there are things that are happening in their life, they are emotionally and socially able to address that. That may be a social worker, that may be a counselor. As a school we only have so many resources available, but the community schools grant can help us fund those additional resources to bring them in to take care of our kids.”

Still, there are concrete progress markers that the school will use to measure the success of community schools. “We are going to look at our academics, ELA, mathematics. We are gonna look at discipline referrals, how many students are being referred to the office or referred to the principal’s office for discipline measures. “ The superintendent went on to describe other signifiers of change. She said that the school district hopes the community school model will bring a decrease in aggressive behaviors and apathy, and contribute to an uptick in how many students turning in homework on time, and reading proficiency.

Community schools are a piece of the larger equation when it comes to the success of our students. First, the school district aims to identify the needs of the students. Then, how does the community work to fill the gaps to fulfill those needs? How much does perception have to do with that, and how do we shape that perception through decisive action? 

Superintendent Adams poses a rhetorical question to the room, meeting the eyes of everyone there.“Who are we when we are outside of our schools, and what does our community think about us? We have to work really hard with our students and we really have to help them understand that they’re a part of something greater than what they even see. And that’s gonna take a minute. And language is absolutely a part of it.”

Would you like to find out more about sitting on a community school advisory board? Contact Cathy Edmondson, Community Engagement Coordinator at 518-475-6067. 

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