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By Ed Sibby

IN EARLY DECEMBER, CTA Vice President David Goldberg and several board members met with Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association (ASTA) leaders and Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) officials representing community schools in Anaheim.

For several years, ASTA and the district have been a model of collaboration on community schools, serving some 22,000 students. They have worked with students, parents and the community while making strides to grow their community schools and meet the needs of all students. In May, AUHSD received a $23 million California Department of Education grant distributed over five years, part of a $4.1 billion statewide commitment to community schools.

AUHSD Community school sign

In September, Anaheim Union High School District opened the first of 13 Community Resource Centers that offer a variety of support services for families and the community.

The ASTA/AUHSD model is a study in partnership. Local union leaders were foundational to the institution of the community schools process, with active communication and consensus among all parties as the work progressed. The process has gone so well that it led to the district committing to a program that would include 13 school sites.

At the meeting, ASTA President Grant Schuster explained the all-in approach their local took to ensure the program’s adoption throughout the district:

At the meeting, ASTA President Grant Schuster explained the all-in approach their local took to ensure the program’s adoption throughout the district:

“Through the practices of shared leadership, engaging the community, providing integrated student supports and enriching student learning inside and outside of the classroom, we are focused to ensure the whole child and their family are supported to thrive. This process has more potential to transform public education than anything I have seen in my 30 years of teaching.”

Successful community schools — in Anaheim and throughout the state— are in constant contact with their students and parents to deeply understand the needs and assets of their school community.

“Through those interactions, community-based partners bring resources that help meet these needs in a way that honors the hopes, dreams and assets of our community,” Shuster said. “[For example,] Sycamore Junior High’s school community works with North Orange Continuing Education to provide adult English as a Second Language classes Monday through Thursday evenings; with Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County to provide preventative dental care to students and dental health education to parents; with Second Harvest Food Bank to host a monthly, free farmers market, and with Orange County Human Relations to embed restorative justice practices into all aspects of our school operations, from the classroom to the cafeteria, administration and beyond.”

The community schools model adheres to overarching principles that invest in systems, not silos. Interventions are tailored to personal student needs, whether those challenges are social-emotional, food insecurity, language acquisition, special needs, or need for other specialized family services. It is both microtargeting and delivery based on specific needs that makes the program transformational, say its proponents.

Presenters at the meeting also pointed out that key to the success in Anaheim is dedicated human resources that help coordinate the program’s many moving parts at each site. Community school coordinators work side-by-side daily with site educators and support personnel, administrators, community partners, students and others. They are embedded in the community and most are former students of the local school they serve.

“We’re looking to serve our children and our families holistically because we know they can’t leave who they are at the door,” said Araceli Huerta, Sycamore’s community school coordinator. “We want to make sure that we’re creating the conditions they need to thrive.”

Among their responsibilities, coordinators manage the events calendar, direct parents and students to community services, operate on-site food pantries and secure local donations. They co-lead school advisory committee meetings and keep all sides informed on progress and ongoing needs.

Another side of this critical partnership is the community school teacher lead on each site. This relationship ensures that each site has trained, trauma-informed educators who are committed to developing trusting and collaborative relationships with students, families and community members. They encourage career pathway development with industry experts in and outside the classroom.

Jemma Rodriguez, teacher lead at Sycamore, believes that staff buy-in has been high because the model is making a difference.

“Through the community school strategy, we are taking care of the whole child. For instance, a single student has received on-site services such as mental health counseling, holiday and winter clothing sponsorship through the school’s ‘Angel Tree’ and conflict mediation through restorative justice practices within the classroom. The same student’s family has also been referred to the resource center where they have received guidance and resource connections for legal matters and other basic needs, such as food and school uniforms.”

Another axiom in Anaheim is that community school programs should supplement, not supplant, existing city services. Understanding and linking parents and students to local programs strengthens ties and builds community at both ends while avoiding duplication of effort. At Sycamore, parents have access to a small food bank, but provisions for addressing long-term food insecurity, as well as health care, immigration services and other needs, are directed out by staff to local and regional government providers.

Ensuring that every program is a value-added measure makes for more abundant services and is not a means for justifying cuts and reductions. In this way, every site can maximize resources according to their needs.

For AUHSD and the members of ASTA, the commitment to community schools is long-term. District officials see positive signs of progress as parents and students become reconnected to their local schools in the post-pandemic era. And confidence is strong among union members that this shared power model has the potential for transformational change throughout the public school system.

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