In a move that may bring additional funding and sharpen the vision for its future, Mayor Jim Kenney has selected Southern as one of the first nine “Community Schools” in Philadelphia.
Community Schools offer a broad and varying range of services to address the comprehensive needs of students, families, and their communities. Each Community School is a unique entity that addresses the specific needs of its local population. A central element of Community Schools is the utilization of external partnerships to transform a school into a neighborhood hub for social services and integrated student support. The U.S. Department of Education defines Community Schools as providing “comprehensive academic, social, and health services for students, students’ family members, and community members that will result in improved educational outcomes for children. There are over 3,000 community schools in the United States, but these are the first in Philadelphia. Southern, with its large physical structure and relatively small enrollment was an appropriate selection for this program.
There is no one set model for Community Schools, as they can reflect varying visions around outcomes and goals. Such schools can be one piece of a larger strategy to improve the health and wellbeing of a community. They are aimed at improving student and parent engagement, or addressing issues of school climate. Many Community Schools have specific academic goals such as increasing graduation rates or scores on state tests. However, the approach taken by a specific school significantly depends on the availability of resources and the will and capacity of the potential partners to work across funding and administrative issues.
Southern’s Community School designation was the result of the efforts of the school’s current principal, Kimlime Chek-Taylor; Otis Hackney, who was the school’s former principal and is now Chief Education Officer for the city of Philadelphia; and many other faculty and staff.