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Community School Champion Elected to Cincinnnati City Council

12/19/11

At 27 years old, P.G. Sittenfeld became one of the youngest Cincinnati City Council members ever be elected this past November. As Assistant Director of Cincinnati’s Community Leaning Center Institute  (CLCI), he also becomes an instant ambassador of the community schools strategy.

SIttenfeld, a Cincinnati native, earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton University before completing his graduate studies at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship. He has worked for the past year and a half with Community Learning Center Institute where he helped lead the effort to have a health center built into one of the city’s newest CLC. He also helped bring summer library services to a school in the city’s East End neighborhood which lacks a public library branch.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of working with the Community Learning Center Instituteω

We consider our work at the Community Learning Center Institute to be equally focused on neighborhood revitalization and community building as on academic improvement. When we set out to develop a school into a CLC (in other communities known as community schools, full-service community schools, or  24/7 schools), we went through great lengths to involve the community in an intensive community engagement process that began by asking all stakeholders, 'What would make you proud and glad to have this school in your neighborhoodω" The great joy and satisfaction in our work is watching the answers to that question become a reality through community learning centers. To see students, families and community members utilizing the school facility throughout the day and after-hours in ways that enrich their lives - ranging from health care access and after-school programming to adult education and cultural opportunities - is to feel we've not only created a better environment for learning but also improved neighborhood quality of life. Everyday, I feel fortunate to get to be part of this work.

Q: Given the success of Community Learning Centers, how vital are community schools to Cincinnati’s long-term education plansω Must the CLC model be implemented across the boardω

Cincinnati Public Schools has undergone a genuine period of renaissance and transformation in the past decade, which is the exact time period in which our CLC Initiative has been created and implemented. Because of CLCs, Cincinnati Public School students are making significant academic gains: in the last 10 years, CPS has gone from being rated in "Academic Emergency" on the Ohio Report Card to being the only urban school district in the state to achieve a rating of "Effective."

The lesson is self-evident: CLCs are critical for the ongoing, long-term success of our school system. As a City Councilman, I also see community learning centers as part of a broader strategy for progress in Cincinnati that goes beyond our school system. The continued development of schools as community learning centers is one of the signature strategies for bolstering our school system, which will translate to higher property values, safer neighborhoods, a more qualified workforce, and overall population growth. I say often in City Council chambers what community school advocates have been saying for a long time: Strong schools build strong communities.

Q: As other communities study Community Learning Centers as they create their own community schools, what advice do you have for them as they consider implementing their own system of community schoolsω What were Cincinnati’s barriers as you moved the strategy system-wideω

My first advice when getting started is to include every stakeholder in the initiative - and I do mean every stakeholder: parents, teachers, students, the social service sector, the business community, the library system, the recreation department, the police department, the philanthropic community, and on and on. Make sure all of these groups are part of the conversation about "Why community learning centersω" so that they know both what they can contribute to the initiative and what they stand to gain.

The second piece of advice is, as a result of bringing so many stakeholders into the fold, expect for there to be hiccups along the way as you work to get everyone rowing in the same direction. There will inevitably be communication lapses and turf issues, but never lose sight of the incredible gains that can be made which make it necessary to keep moving forward.

And the third key piece of advice is that the process of building a community learning center infrastructure will be infinitely more effective if the initiative has a single visionary leader at the helm who insists on setting ambitious goals, which is what Cincinnati has been so fortunate to have in Darlene Kamine's extraordinary work for more than a decade now.

Q: You already have a Cincinnati City School District Community School policy, so what can be done legislatively on the municipal level to help support Community Learning Centersω Do you a see your Council passing any legislation in support of CLCsω Is there the political will in Cincy to do soω If you had your druthers, what would this legislation look likeω

In Cincinnati, the City and School System are separate government bodies. In this last election cycle, those City Council candidates who were critics of our public school system and who did not support collaboration between these two government bodies were voted out of office. Those candidates who positioned themselves as cheerleaders for our public school system and who highlighted points of collaboration and mutual gain were swept into office. So I absolutely think that the political will exists to move forward policies that will further strengthen the role and capacity of community learning centers. Specifically, I anticipate we will expand legislation that uses schools as the place of deployment for various services within our City Health Department, and also deepen the City's partnership with our Recreation Commission. We also, I hope, will be able to move forward more big-picture policy items: I have begun conversations with the President of the School Board about jointly authoring and adopting a City-School System Strategic Vision that will serve as a blueprint for what we're calling a "A New Era of Collaboration" between the City and the School System. The hope is that this document paints a compelling picture of the path forward for how the City and School System can most effectively find points of intersection, co-invest resources, and achieve common goals.


Communities across the nation need more local elected officials as exemplified by Sittenfeld. The Coalition is grateful for PG’s leadership at the city level and wishes him continued success!

The Coalition and the National League of Cities held a webinar Nov. 16 on the role of cities in starting a community school initiative. Click here to download the webinar recording and presentation.
 

Community School Champion Elected to Cincinnnati City Council Cincy Councilman and Community School Administrator P.G. Sittenfeld
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