1. Can you explain the overall mission of the Broome County Promise Zone?
The overall mission of the Broome County Promise Zone is "to build a countywide system of community schools and support all children, families and neighborhoods in pursuit of success in school, work, and in life." We do this by assigning a single Community School Coordinator to one of the twelve schools designated by the school district. The coordinator conducts a needs assessment and resource inventory to determine strengths and gaps in resources within the building and community. The coordinator then works with our Community Project Director, Heidi Mikeska, and our Binghamton University Community School Coordinator, Pam Misener, to align college and community resources, such as Binghamton’s service learning programs to help fill identified gaps.
2. What milestones has Broome County Promise Zone already reached or is currently moving towards?
Broome County Promise Zone is currently finishing our second year of development in this countywide, university-assisted community school model. Our first milestone was to develop and maintain collaborative relationships among our three partners: Broome County Mental Health Department, Broome-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), and Binghamton University. This partnership brings together three organizations with very unique strengths. Our lead agency, Broome County Mental Health Department, provides us with information about community needs and the access to county and community resources. Our BOCES partner helps us to understand the many regulations and restrictions public schools face such as confidentiality around student information and data. Binghamton University brings the student and university-assisted component, allowing us to connect college learning and "research to service" in public schools and local communities through service-learning programs and internships for college students. Balancing the needs and very different structures of each partner provides us with unique opportunities and continued success.
In terms of service milestones, we have a program evaluation plan in place where we will be using surveys to help measure social-emotional growth, and school data to measure impact on academics, attendance, and discipline impact. This plan is a huge milestone due to the fact that we are collecting data across the county and the fact that our schools use three different systems to collect data and all have differing approaches to confidentiality requirements. We are currently confirming through shared data collection from consenting students, processes with each school to begin pulling our first set of school data. Up to this point, coordinators have monitored this data individually.
We have seen that our work with families and students is having an impact on school attendance and discipline referrals. A pilot program with our largest high school showed a 6% increase in attendance and a 60% reduction in suspensions with cohort of eleven students receiving support from Broome County Promise Zone. Families report that the continued engagement helped them to reinforce the value of education at home, creating true partnerships among parents and guardians and school staff. This work has been expanded and schools are reporting a change in how families respond and engage given the support and strategies they have learned through the community school model and Promise Zone staff.
3. How do the Broome County Promise Zone principles tie into the Community School’s principles and philosophy?
We feel that our principles align very well with community schools. Our four broad goals for Promise Zone include improved attendance and academic achievement, as well as increased family and community engagement and access to services, particularly health services including mental health. We define and measure these goals by tracking the data and documenting our family engagement and referrals. These methods help to keep us informed of where we are and how to improve our work moving forward. The accountability holds our program to high standards as well as help to build partnerships and relationships with our schools and community members.
4. The interest in community schools is growing. Why do you think that is?
The interest in community schools is growing because it is showing results that it really is closing the achievement gap and providing ALL students and their families with the opportunities needed to find success in school, work and life. As one of our seasoned principals put it, "this is bone crushing work and community schools with the family engagement components have given me a ray of hope." Community schools are our nation’s best chance to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
5. What are some exciting things coming up for Broome County Promise Zone (i.e., events, publications)?
We have had faculty researchers publish around our family engagement work and our work with intergenerational families. The trauma-informed work not only helps school staff and administration to witness behavior and discipline in a different way, it has helped our families understand their parenting and problem-solving strategies through a clearer lens.
We just had a very successful workshop with Hedy Chang, Director of Attendance Works, with support from the Children’s Aid Society, helping our area schools understand attendance issues such as early chronic absence that prompted much excitement and commitment to using data to develop attendance strategies and plans in our Broome County schools. We will be building on schools’ enthusiasm by following this day of learning with three more sessions facilitated by our team to review the plans and help schools improve attendance with strategies that align with community schools.
Also, the Principal Investigator at Binghamton University, Dr. Laura Bronstein has a book coming out in collaboration with Susan Mason, being published by Columbia University Press, entitled, School-Linked Services: Promoting Equity for Children, Families and Communities.
6. Promise Zones are natural fits for the community school strategy. Can you tell us how the community school strategy fits into the philosophy and work of your Promise Zone, and how you hope to sustain your community schools?
New York State Promise Zones have goals that align with the community school principles. Promise Zones are by design a way of helping to address economic disparities by engaging all stakeholders for optimization of success. Overall goals around student, family, and community engagement as well as dropout prevention and academic achievement, are a natural fit with the community school model. A key component to the success of our Promise Zone funding was aligning our countywide, university-assisted model to the community school success. This approach allowed us to align our goal’s with New York State Office of Mental Health’s wish to expand their traditional funding of one school district approach to a countywide approach encompassing all of Broome County. The countywide approach has been helpful to our districts as they rely on us to help children and families transition between districts, sometimes facilitating registration and supports needed.
7. You recently hosted staff of U.S. Rep. Hanna at your schools. Can you tell us what you learned from that experience about staying involved in policy at the federal level as well as local level, and anything that surprised you about the experience?
We were thrilled to have Nick Stewart, Legislative Assistant to Representative Hanna, join us for a morning of site visits and education around the community school model. It helped us to learn that there is still much work to be done to help our policy makers understand why and how they can support this important work. We also learned that much of what we are doing with our community schools aligns with some of the focus Representative Hanna has, such as early childhood literacy and kindergarten readiness. Helping our elected officials understand how their interests can align with the community school model can enable us to expand the model so that all children will have the benefit of attending a community school.
8. Finally, what do you like about your job?
I love my job!! It marries the two biggest passions I have: college learning and public education. I have always been passionate about working with families and helping them to feel empowered in their parenting and success for their children. I also so enjoy watching college students develop as they seek opportunities and experiences outside the classroom. We are so fortunate to have between 20 and 40 college students each year. Our work also helps me to be a life-long learner as I interact with my colleagues, the students we serve and our families. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new!!