“As students arrive at El Dorado Community School on Fridays, Sais, the school’s principal, welcomes them with shakes and shimmies, jumps and conga lines.
It’s part of Sais’ personal crusade to ensure his staff members and nearly 400 students want to come to school each day.
In addition to the Friday morning fun, the crusade includes positive referrals to the principal’s office, calls home on a student’s birthday or the day they lose a tooth — to give the tooth fairy a heads-up, of course — and all manner of rewards and prizes for students.
Still in his first school year as the K-8 school’s principal, Sais has made it his mission to radiate positivity for his students and staff. The philosophy behind it is simple, he said: “Why would you go to a place if you’re not happy?”
El Dorado lies at a unique crossroads of a branch of an educational principle that has gained popularity — and significant resources — in recent decades: the community school.
Some point to it as the elusive cure-all for New Mexico’s educational woes, a way to care not just for the state’s students but their families and communities at large.
So what does it mean to be a community school in Santa Fe?
The answer: It depends. The term means different things. It can be a policy choice — one currently popular within the New Mexico Public Education Department and the Santa Fe Public Schools system. It can be a guiding philosophy, as it’s implemented by Sais and local nonprofit Communities In Schools of New Mexico. Or it can just be a name, like El Dorado Community School.
Community schools are an outgrowth of leaving schools to tackle many of the barriers to student success rooted in larger social issues, said Julia Bergen, executive director of Communities In Schools of New Mexico.
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