As made clear by educators, parents, and community members in attendance, the District’s involvement in Hartford Partnership for Student Success (HPSS) is working well as a solid investment with significant returns for students and families in seven under-resourced community schools. But if you attended the last Board meeting (or watched the video online), you might not know whether the Board understands how HPSS works in HPS’ favor.
Despite ultimately unanimously backing continued funding for community schools through HPSS, such an outcome was not clear during what was at times a heated and confusing conversation. That discussion centered on payment approval for the already appropriated $95,000 in Title 1 funds for HPSS, which opens HPS up to nearly half a million dollars and many times more through in-kind partner support. So the question remains: does the Board buy in to this strategy meant to address challenges created by poverty?
Vice Chair Tiffany Glanville opened up with the series of questions about the District’s support of HPSS. Board Member Michael Brescia challenged the salaries and benefits of the Hartford Partnership for Student Success (HPSS). He questioned the “independent evaluation” cost of $101,000, but HPSS Partnership Director Tauheedah Jackson explained that only 17 percent of those evaluation costs are paid by Hartford. The seven schools receive some $458,000 in partnership funds, which are leveraged by some $95,000 in federal Title 1 funds coming to Hartford, she said.
Board Member Craig Stallings questioned how the surrounding community has benefited from community schools, looking toward churches and community organizations. With the community wanting to provide perspective, he said, something is amiss, in terms of reaching “that other layer” of community involvement. HPSS Partnership Director Jackson recommended a Board workshop with full disclosure as to every school budget. Lead agency partners in the presently seven community schools do understand the value of scaling up to even more schools, but that will be up to the District, a founding partner of HPSS.
Board Member Julio Flores asked whether the value of the HPSS services could be quantified. Given the scope of the wraparound services provided families across dental, health, mental health, and other services, he asked, “Do we have a way of showing how much money we’re saving?”
For community residents, parents, and educators in attendance, the answer was clear. After seven years of community schools work, the impact of their wraparound services is hardly a mystery. When designed and supported well, it works.
A staff member from Asian Studies at Belizzi spoke Tuesday in support of the dental and mental health services his students receive. Their time-saving access to medical appointments right at the school, he explained, buttresses both their health and educational progress. Confusion over the value of community schools Tuesday was surprising, he said in a follow-up interview. “Tonight seemed like an information traffic jam. The questions were kind of strange.”
The Bottom Line
It is good that Hartford is grappling with how the Hartford Partnership for Student Success might be restructured to better take on poverty challenges. Parents, community members, and educators in attendance at the Board meeting all appeared to get this. They don’t see schools as just classrooms, but as havens where vision, health, and other obstacles to learning can be addressed. Board Member Tiffany Glanville even called for consideration of how the community school model might be “fully actualized” including attention to gaps in services such as before- and after-school care. The services are, however, customized to each school’s needs.
Does the model need to spread to additional buildings or should we double down on this strategy at fewer schools? We, for one, remain a steadfast supporter of the community schools strategy and think we need to double down at current schools. We want to see the strategy expand to include teacher training regarding adverse childhood experiences and youth development. Deepening the connections to family engagement strategies at the school also is a continuous improvement goal, as is providing the services characteristic of full service community schools.