Partner Focus

Policy Focus: Houston Makes Major Strides in Implementing Community Schools Policy 

Daniel Santos a public school educator, advocate for community schools, and Executive Board member of Houston Federation of Teachers took some time to speak with the Coalition team about Houston Independent School District newly adopted policy to connect schools with wraparound  services and non-academic supports.


1. Can you share some background on this legislation? Where did the push come from?
In 2016, when our school district’s board of trustees hired a progressive educator,  Mr. Richard Carranza,  as Superintendent of Schools, a coalition of community activists, elected officials  and organizations that included the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT) and the Alliance to Reclaim Our School - Houston (AROS), reached out to his administration and to members of the board to advocate for a district policy that would formally establish community schools and identify adequate funding for wrap-around specialists or coordinators. Before the new Superintendent was selected, HFT and AROS had been vocal about my middle school, Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School, as it faced very harsh penalties for underperforming on the state’s standardized exams for three years.  


2. How did you become involved in this effort?



In 2014, as my campus faced toxic micro-management by the district due to low test scores and serious teacher turnover, I was introduced by HFT to the community school strategy. The more I researched the value of community schools and community empowerment in lifting up neighborhood schools, I began to speak out loudly at school board meetings and local school decision making committees for wrap-around services and dedicated coordinators to help address many of our students’ non-academic needs. By 2016, when our new superintendent was hired, most of the district’s board of trustees had been educated on the strengths and advantages of community schools


3. You reference the importance of a philosophy of wrap-around services. Why is this so important and how did Houston go about developing their philosophy?



In Houston, our communities have always understood the philosophy that our children require more than just academic support systems to thrive. If our children are faced with chronic health or emotional  issues or their families have daunting financial obstacles, our children will struggle in the classroom and on standardized assessments. Unfortunately, prior to Mr. Richard Carranza’s administration, our previous superintendent along with some board members did not embrace this philosophy and were dismissive of the community school paradigm. As the state accountability system became stricter and more campuses faced potential closures, Houston activists, parents and teachers began aggressively to push for wrap-around services at our most underserved schools. We called out the false promises of education reform strategies and we united to educate our board members on the immediate need for community schools in Houston.


4. Why are wrap-around services so important for students?  


    Our school district serves a disproportionate number of Latino and African-American students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Many face food insecurity because their neighborhoods are located essentially in food deserts and many of their families struggle financially. This year, especially since Hurricane Harvey, many of our students are still homeless or living in temporary housing.  With so many obstacles, our students require support systems just to survive or meet their basic needs.



5. What were the biggest challenges you faced in passing this legislation?



One of the most stressful challenges that we faced was convincing board members that community schools are not an experiment or just another program that was in vogue for the season. Before Mr. Carranza’s administration, too many administrators embraced the ideology that outside factors are irrelevant to the academic success of a student and that only an "effective" teacher in the classroom could solve the everyday socio-economic burdens that our children carried with them.


6. What are some the unique academic and non-academic needs of Houston students?



A substantial portion of our students in Houston are immigrants or first generation students so literacy (reading and the language arts) is an academic need that requires a lot of investment. And since Hurricane Harvey, we are addressing greater housing and health needs than last year.


7. What are your hopes for the future of this legislation?



Since the policy was adopted, my campus will be one of fifteen that will pilot the community school strategy starting in January 2018. We just hired a wrap-around specialist for my campus and it is my hope that we can serve as a model for other Houston schools who wish to embrace the community school strategy. Ultimately, I hope that all our underserved schools in Houston hire a wrap-around specialist and develop plans to adopt the community school strategy.


8. What advice would you give to other states attempting to implement similar wrap-around service provisions in their states?



The best advice that I can give is to collaborate in good faith with all community stakeholders (parents, teachers, local elected officials, community members, administrators, students) so that the policy and its regulations ensures total buy-in and sustainability.



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