WATERTOWN — At the Watertown City School District’s first Board of Education meeting for 2021, a presentation was given by a group of representatives proposing a possible new direction for the district.

With Laura Bateman representing the Oswego City School District, Jodie Delaney representing the Carthage Central School District, MaryClaire Pineau representing the Auburn School District and Olivia Roggie representing the Watertown City School District, the four presented their research and recommendations for their topic: integrating community based resources to support student growth.

The women were invited to the meeting by Superintendent Patricia B. LaBarr after she attended their issue analysis presentation for an educational leadership class at SUNY Oswego.

After a conversation between the group and Ms. LaBarr months ago, the following four focal points became their areas of focus: school based health services, passion for community relationships, benefits of a site coordinator, and optimizing partnerships. They said that by communicating with Ms. LaBarr, they could see that there was a clear focus on incorporating community based supports within the school district.

“As our team began the process of researching how to best integrate community based resources into the district, we first reviewed your mission statement and related goals,” Mrs. Delaney said. “Our team immediately connected our topic for the district issue analysis with the first strategic plan goal, which is to strengthen collaboration among schools, families and community. We developed our essential question of determining how can we access and integrate community based resources to support student growth in the district.”

After extensive research, the presenters gave their three recommendations that could be implemented in the district to target academic improvement — graduation rate, chronic absenteeism and discipline:

The first was, through the existing Liberty partnership program with SUNY Jefferson and Cornell Cooperative Extension 4-H, the Watertown district would incorporate post secondary education students into designated buildings to serve as mentors to Watertown students. This mentoring initiative would support the strengthening of collaboration among schools, families and the community.

The second recommendation was to hire a community school coordinator to serve as a hub for information exchange, outreach and coordination. It’s recommended that the district hire a site coordinator as a full-time employee as they would be an integral part of the school staff, working to recruit and maintain community partnerships, facilitate communication among the leadership team — community partners, school personnel and families — and integrate partners into the culture of the school. In addition, the coordinator would work closely with the home school coordinators that the district currently employs to gather data about student needs, monitor their performance, and create targeted interventions for students and the school.

A third recommendation is for the district to consider transformation to a community school model. Watertown would work toward becoming a full service school district as multiple community partnerships are forged to meet children’s needs in the areas of health, social services, academics, sports, recreation and culture. The schools will become the hub to benefit first and foremost the students enrolled, but also their families and the entire community. This in turn will lead to improved student learning, health and attendance, stronger family engagement, improved school climate and safer neighborhoods.

“The underlying premise of a community school recognizes that the education of a child is not just academic in nature,” Mrs. Bateman said. “Community Schools bridge the inequalities in many students’ lives to create an equitable educational experience for all.”

Data supports the notion that instructional reforms are most successful when they are combined with a comprehensive and integrated approach of the community school strategy. The community school approach can help counter several negative trends; the first is chronic early absence. Because community schools are designed to address the root causes of absenteeism, such as health problems and family instability, they consistently show higher attendance rates than peer or comparison schools, as well as lower rates of chronic absenteeism.

The second negative trend, or area of concern, is summer learning loss. Community schools provide extended learning time and expanded learning opportunities in the form of before and after school, weekends, holidays and summer programming. A third area of concern is the high school dropout rate. The community school strategy is designed to address the social justice issue of barriers that are more prevalent for students of low income families and minority children. Lastly, community schools provide on and off site health, mental health and social services to students living in low income communities where there is often a lack of resources.

“Watertown City School District could position itself as a leader in the area and incorporate the key elements of successful community schools,” Mrs. Delaney said. “In order for a community school to function most successfully, an assessment process completed in the early stages of development will allow for needs and assets of the community to be uncovered.”

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