When Pueblo City Schools (D60) teachers ended their historic strike last year, school board president Barb Clementi had this to say: “Today marks the start of a new beginning through which we can work together to benefit all students and move forward with budgeting and bargaining cycles that will allow us to build the truly collaborative partnership we all need and want.”
It sure sounded like Clementi was offering the proverbial olive branch, raising hope for a new era of cooperation between the school district and the teachers’ union. A year later, that hope seems a bit dimmer.
The Pueblo Education Association, the union which represents the teachers, is calling on D60 officials to embrace the “community schools” concept. Community schools — which rely on strategic partnerships to address a full range of children’s academic, financial, emotional and physical needs — are gaining popularity in school districts across the country.
The state Legislature just put its seal of approval on community schools by passing a law that defines them and would allow Colorado districts to create them.
The PEA, along with a local group called the Pueblo Education Coalition, would like D60 to pick three schools in the city where the concept could be tested. However, D60 officials seem to have dismissed this particular attempt at educational reform out of hand.
At a school board meeting in February, D60 Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso and board member Dennis Maes expressed their belief that at least one of the district’s schools already meets the definition of a community school. Community school advocates say it does not.
The new law should clear up any ambiguity on that question. In any case, it’s still puzzling why D60 won’t at least entertain the idea of expanding this concept to other schools.
Research has indicated that community schools can have a positive impact on student attendance, grades, test scores, enrollment in college preparatory classes, graduation rates and work habits. Those are all good things.
Did we mention that this is something the teachers want to try? Also, districts that have community schools are eligible for federal funding to support them.
If there’s a reason why D60 officials think community schools won’t work, they haven’t explained it.
It’s not like the teachers’ union is asking that every school in the district be converted into a community school. They’re asking for a pilot project involving three schools. If D60 officials still think that’s too many, why not give it a try at one school?
Suzanne Ethredge, PEA’s president, said she wants community schools to be part of the discussion during the next round of contract talks. It would seem like accommodating PEA’s request to experiment with community schools would be a way to earn some good will with the district’s teachers.
Are community schools as wonderful as advocates make them out to be? We don’t know. But the point is, we’ll never know unless D60 officials are willing to give this concept a chance.