Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.

When the DC Council gave control of the schools to the mayor in 2007, the law required DC to create community schools, but there has been little progress since. The Council can rectify this problem by passing a proposed law to create incentives for community schools.

Community schools are schools that provide after-hours services to students and their families and communities.  The idea is that schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, should address obstacles to learning such as student health and excessive unstructured time. 

A hearing on the DC Community Schools Incentive Act that would finally implement the rest of the 2007 legislation was scheduled for December 14, and it looked like this missing piece of school reform would finally be implemented.  However, the hearing was abruptly cancelled with only 3 hours notice.

DC Council Chair Kwame Brown said he had to cancel the hearing because the DC State Superintendent of Education, Hosanna Mahaley, cancelled that morning.  When she skipped the hearing, national experts, grandparents, teachers and students who spent days memorizing their testimony showed up for no reason.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is central to the creation of community schools, and Mahaley had confirmed before Thanksgiving that she would attend the hearing. 

The Coalition for Community Schools defines a community school as a school that partners with community resources to “[integrate] academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and civic engagement.”

Community schools are open 7 days a week during the day and evening to encourage involvement from families and the community. 

Community schools are traditional schools that also offer programs and services for their students, their parents and the surrounding community. They may include: before- and after-school programs for their students, family-support centers and adult enrichment classes on topics, such as parenting, employment, and housing, and medical, dental and mental-health services.

Community schools report gains in academic and nonacademic areas, which impact academic achievement. Research also suggests that students in community schools have higher attendance rates and their families “show increased family stability, communication with teachers, school involvement, and a greater sense of responsibility for their children’s learning.”

One year after the passing of this act, OSSE would administer multi-year award grants to establish “no less than 5 new community schools (at public schools or public charter schools).”

OSSE would also establish and administer the Community Schools Fund “to fund the operation of the initiative, and to ensure the District of Columbia becomes eligible to receive federal and private dollars in support of community schools.”

If DCPS and OSSE are committed to increasing educational outcomes for all children in Washington, DC, they need to further demonstrate that they support the passing of the Community Schools Incentive Act.

The DC Council hearing on the DC Community Schools Incentive Act has been rescheduled for January 31st at 4:30pm.  Let the DC Council and OSSE know that school reform is not just about teachers and buildings, but is also about students and their obstacles to learning outside of the classroom.

Celine Tobal works in the field of education where she focuses on improving educational outcomes for all students and is pursuing an MBA at George Washington University. She has an Ed.M in Education Policy and Management from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a B.A from Haverford College.