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It Takes a (Cooperative) Village

Thanks to Andrea Appleton for the well-researched article on community schools and the careful analysis (“Class Struggle,” Feature, Nov. 3). I want to clarify one or two things, and add an important shout-out.

First of all, in that prominent quotation, I specifically put all of my comments in the PAST TENSE: “Collaboration is not what Baltimore WAS famous for.” I have not worked in Baltimore for a number of years, and although my impression is that collaboration is greatly improved, I consistently denied any expertise on the current state of affairs!

Second, there was a “lack of planning” and a sense of “competition” at the beginning, but this was, in a sense, a deliberate choice: Both the after-school folks (Erin Hodge-Williams, for example) and we tried hard to initiate a planning process before money was allocated for community schools—the then-Mayor’s Office staff chose not to heed our advice. Both initial and continuous planning has been critical to all of the successful community school initiatives across the nation.

And finally, there were important exceptions to the lack of public commitment; I want to highlight one. Then-commissioner of the Health Department, Peter Beilenson, was a huge proponent of community schools, and he made a very significant commitment to the movement, which the administration did not follow through on once he departed. He said that in every school with a health clinic, once we had a coordinator in the school with schools open for after-school and evening hours, he would open those clinics to parents and siblings for both wellness visits and treatment. He was willing to explore turning them into community clinics, including mental health treatment, if the initiative succeeded. This kind of vision drives success for schools and has been demonstrated to support student academic success.

Hopefully, with the leadership of Michael Sarbanes, Andrés Alonso, Family League, and the new mayor’s cabinet, effective planning will allow this kind of innovation to arise!

Jessica Strauss
Consultant, School-Community Partnerships

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