What are community schools?
Community schools have transformed traditional American education for over a century. They are both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources that have an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth development, and community engagement. They have been proven to lead to increased school attendance, decreased disciplinary incidents, stronger families, healthier and safer communities, and improved academic outcomes.
Why did Newton choose community schools?
Like many school districts, Newton engaged over time in an assortment of singular relationships with local nonprofits and government agencies that arose out of perceived needs and emergent opportunities. This approach provided some support to students and families but was often situational and irregular. Stakeholder discussions and best practices research revealed that the district could use a model to bring better overall direction and focus to the work.
In 2017, the Newton Board of Education revised its mission statement to reflect “community schools” as a strategic choice. The relevant passage reads:
We believe parents, teachers, support staff, and citizens must partner in order to help children achieve their highest potential. Therefore, we organize ourselves as community schools to ensure we allocate sufficient resources to the social, emotional, and physical well-being of our students as well as to their academic achievement.
What demographic data reflect needs in the Newton community?
NJ School Performance Report (2020-21 data) Newton HS Halsted MS Merriam ES
- School Enrollment 696 347 485
- Economically Disadvantaged 18% 43% 45%
- Students with Disabilities 13% 20% 25%
- English Language Learners 5% 3% 6%
- Homeless 2% 3% 2%
United Way ALICE* Report (2018 data) Town of Newton Sussex County New Jersey
- Households 3,281 54,174 3,248,970
- % below ALICE threshold 48% 23% 27%
*Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed
What were the initial student and family needs?
District and school level teams conducted needs assessments and developed a model that was shared publicly in January 2017. The model asked each school to consider (1) academic supports for students; (2) health and wellness access for students and families; (3) social/emotional health services and referrals for students and families; (4) social and cultural enrichment as well as recreational activities; and (5) adult education and family/community engagement programming.
We identified a district-wide need for coordination of existing community services of which there were upwards of 36 established initiatives involving some 15 community organizations.
Merriam Avenue School identified a need to improve early literacy and childhood wellness. Research literature on early literacy and childhood wellness is supported by analysis of our current preschool program, where 78% of kindergarten students who attended our preschool met the early literacy benchmarks in DIBELS, 89% met the benchmarks in our Early Screening Inventory, and parents have reported increased wellness on the part of their children.
Halsted Middle School and Newton High School identified a need for greater access to counseling and behavioral services dealing with mental health topics such as management of grief, stress, and anger. 34% of Grade 5-8 students are identified as needing such services that cannot now be met beyond crisis intervention. Over 50% of Grade 9-12 students identified stress, anger, generalized anxiety, and school phobia as significant issues for themselves and their peers.
What were our big goals in 2017?
- By September 2019, we will have pK-8 school facilities that provide greater access to on-site wellness services for children and families (baseline = no dedicated space).
- By September 2020, full-day preschool for 4 year old children will be free and available to all residents (baseline = tuition-based, limited availability).
- By June 2021, the percentage of middle and high school students identified as needing counseling and behavioral services will be reduced by 50% (baseline = 34% of middle school students identified and 54% of high school students self-identified as in need).
- By Spring 2026, 68% of 4th grade students will demonstrate proficiency in English Language Arts as measured by New Jersey state assessments (baseline = 51% proficiency).
What major partnering initiatives are working?
Our Design Team of committed local organizations and district stakeholders has provided guidance and support at the macro-level to our community schools model, and engaged in partnerships at the micro-level that employ institutional strengths and provide mutual benefits.
Our nominal school coordinators have inventoried existing initiatives for areas of synergy and collaboration.
We work with the Center for Prevention & Counseling, Youth Advocate Programs, Lakeside Counseling, Care Solace, Effective School Solutions, and Zufall Health Center among others to provide on-site wellness and mental health services.
We engage Pass It Along, Thorlabs, Newton Medical Center, and the DreamGirls Initiative in wellness-based pathways to mental and behavioral health through student self-discovery, leadership, and volunteerism.
We coordinate with NORWESCAP Head Start, United Way of Northern NJ, First Impressions, and Project Self-Sufficiency to offer free, universal preschool for all eligible children.
We partner with the Town of Newton to provide youth recreational activities.
We collaborate with the Sussex County Department of Health & Human Services, the Sparta Community Food Pantry, NJ SNAP-Ed, Sojihuggles Children’s Foundation and others to contribute basic services to needy children and their families.
We earned a federal 21st Century Community Learning Center (21CCLC) grant to continue our successful, STEM-themed, afterschool program for grades 3-8. Thirteen local organizations are committed to collaborating with us regularly in this endeavor. We have also recently partnered with the YMCA of Sussex County to provide management of our preK-2 before- and after-care programs.
How else have we connected with our families and community?
The Community Schools Office planned and held a series of family-community events in the 2021-22 school year:
- October 21, 2021 - Hispanic Heritage Month Block Party at Halsted Middle School
- November 18, 2021 - An Evening of Gratitude at Newton High School
- February 10, 2022 - Valentine's Cookie Decorating at Merriam Avenue School
- April 28, 2022 - Build A Kite STEM Event at Halsted Middle School
- June 2, 2022 - Family Health Night at Newton High School
On October 3, 2019, we hosted our second Family & Community Connection Event, bringing together 38 local partners and over 200 parents, students, and family members at Newton High School to learn about services provided in the Newton community. Our partners represented social services, healthcare & wellness, arts and recreation, first responders, food providers, and other businesses. Our first event in the spring of 2019 at Merriam Avenue School was equally successful.
What key challenges remain?
While we have an administrative role entitled “director of community schools” funded mainly by our 21CCLC grant, the director is devoted primarily to leading and managing the afterschool and summer programs for 250 students and staff. Much of the related community schools work and relationship-building gets added to the many responsibilities of principals, assistant principals, counselors, and social workers.
Finding space in our existing schools is difficult as our population has grown over the past decade in buildings that were designed for a different educational era.
Sustainable funding is dependent upon organizational generosity, which can shift in times of economic uncertainty.
This site provides information using PDF, visit this link to download the Adobe Acrobat Reader DC software.