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Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
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Trenton, New Jersey 08608

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Community Schools--Ginsburg Testimony 4-11-18

Joint Committee on Public Schools Community School Testimony, April 11, 2018 Twenty-five years ago, I wrote an article for the New York Times entitled, “This Town Will Die Without Our School,” about the impending closure of a suburban public high school and the effect that closure on the life of the town. The school was the only sizeable gathering space, home to numerous school and non-school programs and the nexus of its community. It had many of the characteristics of what we now call a “community school”. I have never forgotten the passionate and connected parents and community members I interviewed for that article. They viewed their school as the beating heart of their town. This is the traditional role of the public school and one that has sometimes been forgotten in our rush to compartmentalize and quantify all aspects of our communal lives. Nurturing Partnerships GSCS believes that the future of public education is inextricably tied to strategic partnerships. The community schools movement seeks to facilitate those partnerships between schools and local social service agencies, higher education institutions, businesses and non-profit entities. These efforts—small and large--bring services, programs and resources into schools, with the aim of nurturing students, their parents and community members. In its ideal form, the community school creates a whole that is stronger than the sum of its parts. Challenges As with any promising idea, there are challenges. School security comes to mind immediately. Funding is another. Ideally, partners from the for-profit and non-profit sectors would fund services that they provide within school buildings. Some Federal, state and local funding might also be available for specific purposes. Existing school structures sometimes need substantial alterations to make them suitable for community programs and personnel. Districts planning new facilities have an advantage, because secure, dedicated community space can be included in the design phase. A successful case in point is New Brunswick High School, which was specifically designed to include what is now a branch of the Eric B. Chandler Health Center, operated by the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School of Rutgers University. Key Components Successful community schools are well organized, with clear lines of authority, consistent communications and reliable partners. Large scale efforts might involve the designation of a leading partner, who is able to take on organizational, logistical and administrative responsibilities that cannot be handled by school district officials. Sharing Versus Paring Policy makers often propose large-scale school district consolidation as the answer to the school funding crisis. We believe that in some cases consolidating resources in community schools is a better alternative, because it is focused on sharing community wealth, rather than paring budgets. Many Routes to Success Every community and school population has different needs and should be encouraged to implement community school components in ways that best meet those needs. Our communities have strengths that are waiting to be tapped. We believe that the community school movement is one way of doing so.

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608

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