Jane Quinn: A View on Community Schools

September 3, 2002

As Assistant Executive Director for Community Schools, Jane Quinn oversees The Children's Aid Society's (CAS) local and national work to forge effective long-term partnerships between public schools and other community resources, using the ten CAS Community Schools in New York City as both a model and a base for national adaptation.

1. Describe the partnership between the Children's Aid Society and New York City public schools.

In New York City we are partners with the New York City Board of Education in ten public schools. Five of them are in Northern Manhattan in Washington Heights. Three of them are in the Bronx and two of them are in East Harlem.

We have been doing this work for about ten years, really joining forces with the New York City Board of Education and bringing into the public schools all of the things that we know how to do, which include before- and after-school programs, summer camps, medical, dental, mental health, and social services.

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2. What does the "typical" Children's Aid Society community school, such as IS 218, look like?

Today we're at IS 218, which is a middle school in Upper Manhattan in the Washington Heights neighborhood. This is a school that has been a community school, a partnership between the New York City Board of Education and the Children's Aid Society, for ten years. This is a school that's open twelve months out of the year, even though we don't have year-round schooling in New York City. We have a regular academic year from September to June, but this school is open six, sometimes seven days a week. It's open from 7 o'clock in the morning untill usually about 9 o'clock at night. It's open on Saturdays and sometimes even on Sundays, and it's open all summer long.

What is happening here is that there are lots of educational and cultural and social enrichment programs for kids. Today you're going to see the Recycle-a-Bicycle Program and the String Orchestra. You might see a Poetry Slam. You might see a dance program, because all of these things go on at this school. You'll also see a lot of academic enrichment. You'll see kids staying after school to get help with their homework. You'll see the library is open in the after-school hours -- that's something that the Children's Aid Society pays for to make sure that kids have access to constructive, positive learning activities six or seven days a week up to fifteen hours a day.

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3. A team of researchers from Fordham University has been tracking the impact of the CAS partnership with New York City schools; what has their research revealed?

There have been some dramatic gains in academic achievement in this school and in our other community schools -- on the standardized tests, as well as based on teachers' observations and on grades. In addition to that, the researchers were able to document dramatic increases in parent involvement, which we know is a very important step along the way to promoting kids' learning and development. They also documented higher student attendance and higher teacher attendance at the community schools than at the control schools that they were also studying.

In addition to that, they were able to document that there was less violence at this school and that there were positive effects in the neighborhood -- decreases in violence and graffiti. And finally, I would say that they were able to document --from observation as well as interviews with students, parents, and teachers -- that having all of these resources in the school really had positively affected the school climate and had affected kids' attitudes about school.

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4. What advice would you give individuals who are considering entering into a community school partnership like that which the Children's Aid Society has developed with the New York City Board of Education?

I think the number-one key to the success of a venture like this is planning. I think you can't have a partnership between a board of education and a large human service organization without sitting down at the planning table and saying to one another, "What is it we're going to try to do in this school?"

And I think you need to have a lot of "what-if" conversations to really begin to craft a vision of what might be possible if you bring together the rich resources of the school system with the rich resources of a human service agency. The directors of our community schools are partners with their principals. They sit on the school leadership team, so on a monthly basis they sit down with the principal, the lead teachers, and parents from the school and really plan together what they're going to try to do on behalf of the students and the families and the larger community. I think joint planning and joint decision making are really important critical elements to the success of a venture like this.

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5. Ten years is a long time to sustain a partnership. What has enabled the collaboration to grow and thrive for over a decade?

The most important unifying device between the Children's Aid Society and the New York City Board of Education is that we have a shared goal: to promote the learning and healthy development of the students in our schools. That's a wonderful common bond. It doesn't mean that there aren't challenges to working together. There's never enough space. There's never enough money. The needs are always greater than the resources we can bring to the table, even collectively. But I think we have found that if you have the word yes written in your heart, you can make almost anything happen and I think that we're living proof of that in our schools in New York City.

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6. What will it take to transform all schools into community schools?

I think that what it's going to take to make this happen in all of our schools is really a change in our attitude, a change in our understanding of what it is young people need in this day and age to become successful and productive adults. And it's going to take us having the courage to walk out of our silos -- our silos of medical services, educational services, social services, youth work services. We're going to have to come out of those protected silos and really figure out some new ways of working together.

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