Adding Community Services Could Help Coalfields Schools, Del. Sam Rasoul Says - Sam Rasoul
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Adding Community Services Could Help Coalfields Schools, Del. Sam Rasoul Says

By Carmen Forman from the Roanoke Times

January 25, 2017

Community schools, which offer health and social support services during and after the school day, may help schools in the impoverished coalfields region that face steep enrollment drops, rapidly disappearing state funding and school closures, Del. Sam Rasoul said.

Rasoul, D-Roanoke, introduced a bill that would create an interagency task force of state and local entities to develop a pilot program for creating community schools, which are sometimes housed in older, vacated school buildings or on an otherwise flourishing school campus.

The community school model and innovative ways of thinking about K-12 education could be one route of extracting the coalfields schools out of the dire financial situation they face because many residents are fleeing the area due to a lack of jobs, Rasoul said. The new school concept would be just one part of a multipronged approach to help the floundering schools.

Superintendents from the coalfields also have presented to state lawmakers several funding solutions to keep their schools from being penalized for enrollment drops.

Localities such as Dickenson County in Southwest Virginia have consolidated schools due to their shrinking student population. Now, former school buildings in the county and neighboring localities sit empty.

Rasoul’s HB 2434 aims to revive those schools by turning them into centralized hubs offering all the services a family might need.

Richmond’s school system did something similar over winter break by moving nine of its offices, such as health services and school social work, into a block of offices in a Richmond alternative school — creating a one-stop shop for needy students and their families.

Chicago has the largest community schools program in the nation with schools that partner with nearly 50 nonprofit organizations to offer on-campus after school programs, medical and dental care, job training for parents and other social services.

“Everybody knows where the school is,” Rasoul said. “Everybody can go to the school and then, they can receive services there.”

The bill stipulates that the community schools pilot program would create a process by which localities could go about creating community schools, though each locality would be able to customize its schools and the on-site services they offered.

Rasoul stressed that creating community schools would be a long-term process wherein certain services may relocate their operations onto school campuses when able.

Rasoul’s bill will be heard in the General Assembly education innovation subcommittee next week.

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