The vision of schools as thriving community centers, enjoying camaraderie and bustling with activities for students, parents and other community members, took center stage at an NLU book release party Nov. 4.
Carlos Azcoitia, Ed.D., distinguished professor of practice at NLU, and Ted Purinton, Ed.D., dean of the graduate school of education at American University in Cairo, and former chair of NLU’s Department of Educational Leadership, led a panel discussion on the book they co-edited, “Creating Engagement Between Schools and Their Communities: Lessons from Educational Leaders” (Lexington Books).
Five educational leaders who wrote chapters of the book also joined them in discussion. They included NLU alumni Francisco Borras, Karen Carlson, and Judith Dymond.
“The integration of school, family and community led our school to make significant improvements,” said Azcoitia, about his time as principal of Spry Community School in Chicago, a kindergarten through high school building which he ran on a community school model.
Before commencing the model, Azcoitia asked students why they were leaving high school before graduating, and discovered it had to do with classes starting at 7 a.m. and their families’ need for them to earn a paycheck when they turned 16.
To make school more amenable, Spry changed its hours to 10 am to 6 pm, and operated on a year-round basis, so that students could graduate in three years if they attended all summer sessions.
Spry also started welcoming parents and community members into the school with activities such as English as a Second Language classes and health services. It converted an empty lot into a children’s play area. It extended hours into the evening and on Saturdays. In addition, it added advanced placement and dual credit courses for high schoolers, to encourage them to go to college.
“The role of a community school becomes part of people’s lives,” Azcoitia explained. “It becomes the focus of the community.”
It also resulted in better school attendance, fewer discipline problems and a high school graduation rate today of 90 percent, higher than the Chicago Public Schools’ average of 73 percent.
“I felt the community school model of leadership was instrumental to all of our students at NLU,” said Purinton, who was a faculty member in NLU’s Department of Educational Leadership starting in 2006 and then became chair from 2009-11. “It’s a style of leadership appropriate to any principal who cared about who students were and what they brought to the school. It’s a style that allows a more proactive and organic approach to issues of student achievement and school culture.”
Stuart Carrier, director of NLU’s National College of Education School of Advanced Professional Programs, agrees. “The more you achieve synergies in the community between students, businesses, parents and others, you get an uplifting of the whole school,” he said.
“You get a sense of vision and mission.”