John Sais kicks off every Friday morning with a dance party.
As the students arrive at El Dorado Community School on Fridays, Sais, the school’s principal, welcomes them with shakes, touches, jumps, and conga lines.
It’s part of Sayce’s personal campaign to make sure his staff and nearly 400 students want to go to school every day. In addition to the Friday morning fun, the crusade includes positive referrals to the principal’s office, calling home on a student’s birthday or the day they lose a tooth—to give the tooth fairy a heads up, of course—and all kinds of rewards and prizes for students.
Still in his first year as principal of a K-8 school, Sayes has made it his mission to radiate positivity to his students and staff. The philosophy behind it, he said, is simple: “Why go somewhere if you’re not happy?”
El Dorado is at the unique crossroads of a branch of educational principle that has gained popularity—and important resources—in recent decades: the community school. Some point to it as the elusive cure for New Mexico’s educational woes, and a way to take care of not only the state’s students but their families and communities in general.
What is a community school?
So what does it mean to be a community school in Santa Fe?
Answer: It depends. The term means different things. It can be a political choice—a popular choice currently within the New Mexico Department of Public Education and the Santa Fe public school system. It can be a guiding philosophy, as it is being implemented by Sais and local nonprofit communities in New Mexico schools. Or it could just be a name, like El Dorado Community School.
Community schools are the outgrowth of leaving schools to address the many barriers to student success that are rooted in larger social issues, said Julia Bergen, executive director of Community Schools of New Mexico.
“Schools and school districts have been increasingly required over the past several decades—either directly or indirectly—to accommodate the significant social and economic inequalities and social-emotional behavioral health needs of public school students. Public schools were not originally designed to do so,” Bergen said.
Essentially, the community schools approach aims to turn schools into a kind of hub through which students and their families can access services to promote healthy learning and development, said Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez.
a Domain Developed by the Learning Policy Institute, the National Center for Community Schools, the Community Schools Coalition, and the Brookings Institution, it suggests that transitioning to a community school involves six steps: active student and family involvement; collaborative leadership shared between families, students, teachers, and staff; expanding learning opportunities; conscientious classroom instruction with real-world application; a school culture of safety and care; and integrated support systems to promote healthy learning and development.
That could mean on-site food and clothing pantries, free tutoring, social and emotional wellness seminars, after-school enrichment opportunities and many other forms of support to ensure students and their families feel supported by their school, Bergen said.
studies Show that a community school model can be successful in improving student outcomes. Before and after school enrichment opportunities that the program prioritizes to reduce risky behavior and dropout rates while enhancing academic achievement, one Stady is found. last The strategy identified increased attendance and rates of successful progression from grade to grade.
Priority for community schools since 2019
Expanding community schools beyond typical models in Albuquerque and Las Cruces was among Gov. Michelle Logan Grisham’s priorities as a new district at the time; was one of them Campaign promises When she ran for the first term in 2018.
Politics gained great traction in New Mexico with Community Schools Acta 2019 law that defined the process for funding community school programs through Department of Public Education grants and implementing accountability systems that require grantees to improve school climate, student achievement, and family involvement.
The policy — now approaching its fifth year — still enjoys broad support from state officials. In this legislative session, lawmakers allocated $10 million to the administration for community and family school engagement programs, per House Bill 2State budget draft law. This is double what the state has allocated to the administration for new educational materials this year and five times what the state has allocated Primary credits for a community school in 2019.
As a result, community schools are important to the department.
Each year, New Mexico schools can apply for funding through the ministry’s Community Schools grants, which are valued at $500,000 over four years, according to the statute.
All of this carried over into the Santa Fe Public Schools. Chavez said seven community schools are now operating in the district’s elementary, middle, high, and K-8 schools. This year, the district applied to make El Dorado Community School its latest site to be awarded community school funding by the Department of Public Education.
But Chavez said many community schools in the county do not have the word “community school” in their names. The schools were named before the state’s community school efforts—and grant funding—began to pour in.
communities in schools
Communities in New Mexico Schools are a key part of how schools in the local area — and state — are beginning to embrace the Community Schools Framework.
The local nonprofit, a New Mexico affiliate of a national organization, works on 12 schools in Santa Fe, from pre-K students at Cesar Chavez Elementary to 12th graders at Capital High, with site coordinators. These site coordinators are responsible for providing targeted support to students — at the school level, in groups or individually — based on needs assessment surveys filled out by parents, teachers and community members, Bergen said.
For example, Bergen said, if an organization’s assessment finds that 80% of a school’s population is food insecure, communities in schools will set up a school-wide food pantry. Site coordinators offer other supports, such as clothing and hygiene stores, academic tutoring, social and emotional learning courses, and anti-bullying seminars for students who need them.
All of these efforts are designed — and tested for results through an extensive data collection process in schools’ communities — to improve student attendance, academic performance, access to basic needs, family involvement, and social and emotional well-being, Bergen said.
“The goal of all this work is to create greater equity and provide more robust learning opportunities for students because they don’t face on a daily basis those external social-economic or socio-emotional divides or barriers,” she said.
Funding and planning barriers to implementation at the state level
If this method works so well, why isn’t every Santa Fe public school — or in the state — a community school? Chavez cited two main reasons.
First, he said, there is a financing issue. Community school grants offered by the Department of Public Education have been instrumental in establishing community schools, Chavez said, but that grant money runs out after about five years, leaving districts to foot the bill for community school programs. Chávez plans to highlight the issue during next year’s legislative session in hopes of extending funding eligibility.
Chavez said the state’s $10 million investment in community schools this legislative session wouldn’t cover the cost either.
“The state may need to invest a little bit more if it wants to expand across the entire state, in every school,” he said.
Secondly, there is an issue with bandwidth and longevity, Chavez said. To operate, community schools require proper planning, careful execution, and a lot of work. He said he did not want to increase district staff, school staff, or community partners while implementing more community schools.
“We’re looking to continue expanding into community schools, but we want to make sure we do that [well] And giving everyone enough support and time to make sure it’s inclusive.”
For Sais—whose school is called El Dorado Community School, though it can’t yet be counted among the state-funded community schools or communities in schools in New Mexico locations—creating a nurturing school environment is all about being a community.
By the time the current kindergartners in El Dorado graduate from eighth grade, everyone in El Dorado will know them. The Sais likely called their parents many times – on birthdays, when they lost a tooth, for office referrals with good or bad news.
“For me, it’s almost like family,” Sayce said.
The manager explained that this treatment does two things.
Students and their families are encouraged to communicate with the school administration regarding any issues. Eldorado is already seeing these benefits, Sayes said; The referral rate to the school has decreased this year, a change that contributes to building trust between staff, students and families.
Students are guaranteed to know they have a cohesive network of supporters in the school.
“If we’re a family,” he said, “families help out anywhere. It doesn’t end at 3:10 when the school bell rings.”