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  1. Education

Pasco seeks community school to serve children beyond classrooms

Ray Gadd said the school should be in supportive surroundings.

The Pasco County School District wants to launch what is known as a "community school" in January. The big question is where.

The venture aims to serve students in the classroom and beyond. Sometimes called full-service schools, community schools provide health care, social services, parent engagement and other activities for children and their families, including evening and weekend hours.

"The best place for a community school might not be the place where you have the highest need," said Ray Gadd, deputy superintendent of schools.

To be successful, such a school must have nearby churches, civic organizations, businesses, nonprofit organizations and other entities that will contribute to the efforts, said Gadd, who sits on the University of Central Florida Center for Community School and Child Welfare Innovation advisory board.

"Can we muster up the resources in the community to support this school?" Gadd asked.

Three areas have gained attention from the Pasco team laying the groundwork for the initiative, using a nine-month planning grant from the UCF center:

• Holiday, focusing on the Anclote High, Paul R. Smith Middle, Gulfside Elementary school cluster.

• Hudson, focusing on the Hudson High, Hudson Middle, Northwest Elementary school cluster.

• Dade City, focusing on the Pasco High, Pasco Middle, Pasco Elementary school cluster.

Kara Parris, program planning director for Youth and Family Alternatives, said she's researching possible schools, meeting with principals and assessing needs and available support.

Youth and Family Alternatives is the lead agency for the community school project. Other partners include Premier Community Health Care and the University of South Florida.

Some of the other data Parris is reviewing includes homeless student counts and arrests, so she can get a picture of the situations that youngsters face in each part of the county.

"There's definitely a lot of need in Pasco," Parris said. "Whatever school is chosen, we will move in there and start to build those relationships."

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper wants to bring the concept to east Pasco. Over her 31-year career working there with children and families, Tepper said she has seen many scenarios where children's lives outside of school have disrupted their classroom existence.

Schools that provide services and personnel trained to identify and address root causes of behavior can help children overcome their obstacles, rather than simply shuffling them to alternative schools, the juvenile justice system and other less attractive options, she said.

And offering assistance to parents, such as job placement and adult education, benefits the entire family, Tepper added.

"If we want to solve the problems in schools, we need this approach for every student," she said.

She acknowledged the importance of existing community involvement as a factor in selecting a community school location.

"The question is going to be whether the need trumps that," Tepper said. "I just keep reminding them we want to put it here (in east Pasco). If it doesn't come here first, we'll keep pushing to have one."

Gadd said Youth and Family Alternatives will be in charge of coordinating between the school and the other service providers, working with the families to ensure they get the care they require.

Depending on the location, he added, the offerings might vary. They likely will include at least a health clinic, food pantry and after-school programs.

"Our goal is to make it happen no later than the second semester," Gadd said.

The county will apply for an implementation grant from UCF to back its community school. It also will try to get state funding in addition to private contributions.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4614. Follow @JeffSolochek.

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