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Union's 'community schools' initiative gets a boost from the city

When teachers’ union president Michael Mulgrew announced a grant program last month to bolster social services in schools, he said the union was moving ahead because the Department of Education was not.

But today, when Mulgrew announced the schools that will receive grants, Chancellor Dennis Walcott was standing next to him. The two came together in a last-day-of-school show of camaraderie after a year in which relations between the union and the city grew more strained than ever.

The joint appearance meant that amount of grant money awarded doubled, to $600,000, since Mulgrew’s May announcement. That will make it possible for six schools to bring health and dental clinics, tutoring, counseling programs, and social services to students and their families, as part of a pilot program to create “community schools.”

The UFT and Department of Education are each contributing $150,000, and the Partnership for New York City, a coalition of business groups, is adding another $300,000.

The initiative is based on a program in Cincinnati that coordinates and targets social services there. The goal is to harness existing services so they are used more effectively.

“We put enormous resources into our education system, into our healthcare system, and some of our other service systems, but we don’t do a very good job of maximizing the output,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of Partnership for New York City.

“We’ve had services for very long time in New York City. What we want to do now is start coordinating the services at the school site,” said Mulgrew, who was part of the team that began developing the initiative two years ago.

Mulgrew introduced Walcott and shook his hand, but he drew the line at offering a public display of affection. “I’m not kissing you, brother,” Mulgrew joked.

For his part, Walcott said the decision to partner with the union on the initiative was a no-brainer.

“Why would I be opposed to that? It’s something that benefits our students,” said Walcott. “Any time we talk about our students, we have a responsibility to stand together because our students come first no matter what we may agree or disagree about at times.”

Walcott announced a separate, $30 million plan to develop mental health centers at middle and high schools over the next three years at a City Council budget hearing in May.

The union and city were attracted to Cincinnati’s model because of its impact on student performance: Since nearly all of Cincinnati’s 56 schools were transformed into community hubs, the city’s high school graduation rate increased from 51 percent to 82 percent.

Making a lighthearted reference to Cincinnati’s program, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, “Look, we’re in New York, and we hate to say that anyone else has a [better] model than we do, but occasionally we just have to swallow our pride and admit that there are some other places in the world that come up with good, interesting, and effective models of how to do this.”

The six schools that will receive grants are P.S. 30 and Community Health Academy of the Heights in Manhattan; P.S. 188 and Sunset Park High School in Brooklyn; P.S. 18 in the Bronx; and Curtis High School in Staten Island.

The schools will design the programs according to the needs of their students and community. To help launch their programs, the schools will partner with veteran service providers such as Lutheran Healthcare and the Children Aid’s Society.

“We’re still in the planning stage, so over the summer, we will be putting together a survey to assess even more and going deeper in terms of the community’s needs,” said Terri Stinson, principal of P.S. 30.

A third party outside of the UFT and the Education Department will assess the school’s model to determine whether it is effective, according to Karen Alford, a UFT vice president. If it is, it could grow in the future.

“We don’t have a plan for expansion yet,” said Quinn. “We have a plan for implementation and that will lead us to a plan for expansion.”

But some of the principals whose schools will host community hubs are already looking to the future.

“We’re very excited for the opportunity,” said Jasmin Varela, principal of P.S. 18. “We’re going to pilot and hopefully replicate, especially in the South Bronx, where it’s most needed.”

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