The Minnesota Department of Education announced this month that four schools across Minnesota were awarded state funding to become full-service community schools: Earle Brown Elementary in Brooklyn Center, Richard Green Central Park Elementary in Minneapolis, Gage Elementary in Rochester, and Lincoln Park Middle School in Duluth.
This is great news for the families served by these schools, as well as for the surrounding community. And, it is great news for organized labor — because it is the kind of member-driven solution that all of us advocate.
The untold success of Minnesota schools getting support to transform into full-service community schools is that this model has been driven and supported by educators. Education Minnesota, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation and community partners worked in the 2015 legislative session to get the state to support full service community schools and to obtain initial funds. Education members — teachers and school workers — testified in favor of the legislation, held media events, and lobbied at the grassroots level.
Education Minnesota’s new Educator Policy Innovation Center brought together union members to produce a policy paper advocating for the full-service community school model to bolster these efforts. It’s true unionism — members working together to make needed reforms that improve their workplace (and the children’s learning place) that benefit Minnesota students and their families.
The benefits are significant and proven. Full-service community schools have been extraordinarily effective at closing opportunity and achievement gaps in other states and in the few areas where they have been tried here in Minnesota.
Unlike traditional schools — or even schools that include some wrap-around services like a health clinic — full-service community schools put the community at the center of everything they do. The school surveys the surrounding community to find out what needs exist and then makes a plan to fulfill those needs at the school.
At Brooklyn Center Community High School, where they adopted the full-service community school model early, the graduation rate is improved, attendance is up, suspensions are cut in half, and the gap in performance on standardized tests is closing. Similar gains have been seen at the state’s first full-service community school, Myers-Wilkins School in Duluth.
Community schools recognize that excellence for marginalized students will require many strategies and forms of support that must be targeted appropriately to each group of students. They bring services into the school like health services, dental, mental health, after-school programs, open lunch, all to help students learn and grow outside school walls. Students in poverty, often children of color, and under-resourced students in these schools are “beating the odds,” attaining educational success for a lifetime.
We know that Minnesota has communities with tremendous needs. To be successful with this strategy, we need to challenge organizations, institutions, businesses, nonprofits, and government to step up and collaborate to model community while serving communities. The dedicated educators now have an opportunity to access resources and partnerships to surround children and their families to support learning in a powerful new way.
As opposed to top-down, often anti-union “reforms” that have largely failed our students, full-service community schools are bottom-up, pro-labor, pro-collaboration, pro-family and community transformations that actually work. These types of reforms — and the process that was used to advocate for them — are a model for building strength within the labor movement.
And more important, for children who attend these schools, there is an effective way to improve the school and help them succeed. That is the biggest win.
Louise Sundin is a former president of MFT Local 59 and a MnSCU trustee.