SYRACUSE, N.Y. March 11, 2022 — Standing with school officials and legislators in Syracuse 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.”
Syracuse features community schools with a wide array of services. Visiting Dr. Weeks Elementary School, union officials saw the school’s on-site health center, community closet and Parent and Community Room used for adult education seminars and other neighborhood events.
Expanding the number of community schools is a cornerstone of NYSUT’s Future Forward campaign, and the success of Syracuse’s community schools underscores why that is so critical. At Dr. Weeks specifically, more than 100 students attend before and after-school programming, upward of 70 percent of students are enrolled in the school’s health center and more than 100 students participate in a weekend food bank program. The effects of those wrap-around services are clear: After becoming a community school, Dr. Weeks was able to get off the state’s punitive school receivership list.
“In the Syracuse City School District, we have always had a focus that extends beyond academics – we strive to support the entire child and the family,” Superintendent Jaime Alicea said. “Community schools and the funding allocated to them substantially help us meet all the needs of our students and families by allowing us, in partnership with community agencies, to provide a broad array of resources with the school as a one stop, central hub. Increased funding for community schools will mean a direct increase in supports and services such as childcare, mental health, health care, and adult education – all of which help remove barriers that many of our families face. Increased funding for community schools brings about a reduction in chronic absenteeism and an increase in student achievement, which benefits our students, our families, our schools, and our community.”
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: Nationally, a 2019 study from the ABC Community School Partnership estimated for every $1 invested in establishing a community school and hiring a site coordinator, the average return on investment was roughly $7.
Legislative allies are standing with unions and school communities in advocating for that funding in the state budget due April l.
“Today’s schools and school personnel are doing more than ever to provide supports that haven’t traditionally been part of public education,” state Sen. John W. Mannion said. “Through its dedicated staff and community partnerships, the Syracuse City School District has built a model program at Dr. Weeks Elementary. We need to invest in more community schools in New York so students and families have the services – including comprehensive health and nutrition programs – that create the best possible environment for learning and success.”
“Community schools are a valuable addition to every neighborhood, especially as students and families are dealing with so many diverse needs in the wake of the pandemic,” state Sen. Rachel May said. “I’m proud to support the work of Syracuse educators who are going above and beyond to provide for students both in and outside of the classroom and urge my colleagues in the Legislature to work with us to secure dedicated community school funding in this year’s budget.”
Syracuse 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.
Future Forward: Learning from Community School Success Stories in Buffalo and Syracuse