SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. March 17, 2022 — Standing with school officials, area educators, community partners and legislators in Saranac Lake today, New York State United Teachers called for a $100 million state investment to dramatically increase statewide the number of community schools, a game-changing model that helps students and families address the deeply rooted challenges they face that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Getting back to ‘normal’ isn’t good enough for our students — it’s time we demand a public education system that truly supports every child,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “When children face poverty, when their families face food insecurity, when they don’t have access to health care or social services, they don’t come to school ready to learn in the first place. That’s where community schools change the game, helping students and families thrive.”
Visiting Saranac Lake High School and Petrova Elementary School on Thursday, officials highlighted why expanding the number of community schools is a cornerstone of NYSUT’s Future Forward campaign, and how the success of Saranac Lake’s community schools underscores why that is so critical.
Since the program’s inception four years ago, the district has been joined by 20 community partners to deliver services ranging from internet assistance to a weekend food program to before- and after-school childcare to telehealth, dental and eye care. Those partnerships have paid off tremendously. For example, more than 200 students and family members have received emergency food pantry assistance through the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity (JCEO) since January 2021, and nearly 550 have accessed assistance through Feeding America since October 2021 alone. Roughly 70 students per year participate in the district’s weekend backpack program, and 20 families access monthly food, shelter, utility, health care and other assistance through Community Connections of Franklin County.
“In tight-knit communities like ours, we look out for each other — and that’s exactly the idea behind our community school program,” Saranac Lake Central School District Superintendent Diane Fox said. “To get our students ready to learn, we have to meet all their needs. We’re so thankful for our partners who are invested in this mission with us and know that what we’re doing in Saranac Lake can be replicated with equal success across the North Country.”
Replicating this success requires a significant infusion of state resources. Statewide, just less than 300 out of more than 700 school districts utilize the community school model.
New annual state funding of $100 million dedicated specifically to creating more community schools and hiring community school coordinators — invaluable staff who can both help develop community school programming and dedicate themselves to triage work connecting families in need with services not provided by the school itself — could double the number of districts utilizing the model statewide. It’s a smart investment: In Saranac Lake, for every $1 invested in the community school program, the return on investment is $14 — double the national average.
Legislative allies are standing with unions and school communities in advocating for that funding in the state budget due April l.
“Community schools provides more than just education — they build strong relationships with families and care for the whole child,” Assemblymember Billy Jones said. “Everyone wants our children to get the best education possible, and the community school model is a great way to make sure that all of our children’s needs are met — from medical care and mental health care to making sure there is food on their table. I want to thank everyone for inviting me to tour the community school in Saranac Lake, and I will continue to advocate for more resources to help other schools in the North Country become community schools.”
“The Community School model is a successful option worthy of consideration for many districts across the state,” Assemblymember Matt Simpson said. “Our schools have reached a critical point where the needs of students have expanded beyond the scope of what our educators and administrators are equipped to resolve while still maintaining their primary academic responsibilities. The collaborative approach the community school model uses by engaging with various partners in the community allows educators to react more efficiently to the dynamic needs of our students and, perhaps more importantly, helps proactively keep children healthy, engaged, and learning.”
Saranac Lake is just one of a handful of stops NYSUT is making this month to highlight the success of community schools.
More information on the union’s Future Forward campaign is available at futureforwardny.org.
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.