Since taking over P.S. 15 in the Lower East Side four years ago, Principal Irene Sanchez has rounded up more than a dozen outside groups to offer her students everything from reading and music lessons to vision exams, swimming workshops, and sessions with therapy dogs.
All the extra help is vital for her students — almost all come from low-income families, and more than 40 percent live in homeless shelters or other temporary housing — but managing all those partnerships became a job in itself, Sanchez said. So when she learned this summer that her school was eligible to join a new city program that pairs high-needs schools with agencies that will help provide and coordinate all those services, she canceled her vacation plans in order to work on the application.
“It was that important to say, ‘We’re doing it, but we need help,’” said Sanchez. Such support, she added, will “free up teachers and administrators to do the job of educating students.”
P.S. 15 is among the 45 schools named by the city on Monday that will pair up with one of 25 different support groups, including the Children’s Aid Society, Good Shepherd Services, and Teachers College. The plan, which Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced in June, is to develop new “community schools” that address students’ academic and personal needs by bringing in medical and dental services, mentoring and counseling, art and wellness classes, and other assistance for students and their families.
Each school will get a full-time coordinator to oversee the support programs, which will be provided by the partner agencies or other outside groups. The agencies will receive about $310,000 annually for each of their partner schools from a four-year, $52 million state grant meant to boost student attendance and reduce the number of dropouts.
Schools chose from roughly 60 vetted agencies, according to Sheena Wright, president of United Way of New York City, which is helping manage the program. Each school then interviewed about three agencies before making its selection, she said. Some of the agencies are partnering with multiple schools.
De Blasio’s schools-as-service-hubs plan follows a model that has been adopted by other cities and embraced by President Barack Obama and Governor Andrew Cuomo, not to mention many of the city’s education advocacy groups and the teachers union. The idea is not only to give students extra academic help, but also to attend to out-of-school issues like hunger, family instability, or health problems that can get in the way of learning.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday that each of the 45 schools will set its own performance goals, which will focus on improved student attendance, parent involvement, and academic achievement. She cautioned that the the academic gains “won’t happen overnight,” but said progress in the other areas will eventually boost student performance.
“If you’re not in school,” she said during the announcement at P.S. 15, “you can’t learn.”
The partner groups are in the process of hiring the service coordinators for each school, who will work with faculty members and parents over the next few months to identify each school’s needs and create service-delivery plans. The plans are due by March, though some services might be offered before then.
The education department will send officials to visit the schools and will hire an outside evaluator to track their progress, Fariña said. But unlike the administration’s pre-kindergarten expansion, where each site is expected to offer similar experiences, each community school will be expected to arrange services specifically designed for its students and families, said Deputy Mayor Richard Buery.
“Every community school will look a little different,” he said.
Parents and school leaders at P.S. 15 chose to partner with Pathways to Leadership, a group that offers counseling, mentoring, and therapy in schools. P.S. 15 will also receive academic support from the city, since it is part of a new improvement program for low-performing schools. (Eleven of the 45 community schools are also in that school-improvement program, known as “school renewal.”)
Pathways to Leadership will help run an after-school program at P.S. 15 and bring in an on-site social worker and two interns, according to Kathleen Shamwell, the school’s new site coordinator. The school already reaches out to parents — it has previously bought a washer and dryer for them to use — but through its new partnership it might start to host adult classes or set up a “study hall” for parents to do their own homework while their children are supervised. Such services will ultimately benefit students, said Assistant Principal Laura Salmon.
“If their families are doing better,” she said, “they’re going to do better.”