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Hillsborough Schools to become more community-focused

The school board will vote on a research-based approach.
MONICA HERNDON | Times Third graders walk to their desks in front of a mural painted by artist Eric Hornsby, in teacher Yobi Reyes' classroom, on August 27, 2018 at Mort Elementary in Tampa, Fla. [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Aug. 20
Updated Aug. 20

TAMPA — Community schools - which provide an array of services to children and families based on specific community needs - could soon become more of a routine and less of an exception in Hillsborough County.

The School Board on Tuesday moved ahead with a proposed policy that would formalize the district's participation in this national movement,.

The policy, if approved after a public hearing, will set clear expectations for work that already is happening in isolated locations.

Sulphur Springs K-8 has worked for at least a decade with organizations that include the YMCA to assist children and families in the after-school hours.

Mort Elementary embarked more than three years ago on an ambitious community school project that involved a statewide charity and local churches.

More recently, the district launched four more community school projects at Potter, Foster and Gibsonton Elementary, and Greco Middle schools.

The last four are largely in the planning stages as the district assesses needs in the communities, said Rachel Bruns, newly appointed as the supervisor of community schools.

Services typically offered at community schools include food pantries, clothing closets and parent resource centers that can be used for meetings or classes. Mort already offers mental health counseling, and that kind of assistance could be located in other locations.

But the movement is not just about the “wrap-around services,” as they are called, Bruns said.

The community school model also calls for classroom education that is relevant and effective in the populations that are served, with a strong emphasis on parent engagement.

“This is research based work,” said board member Cindy Stuart, who was instrumental in starting the Mort project, and proposed the new policy, “You don’t get to just be called a community school. It’s very, very intentional.”

Requirements, according to the policy, include principals who are committed to the community school strategy and view it as parallel to what goes on in the classroom; and teachers who want to take on leadership roles and, like the principals, are enthusiastic about the community concept.

To accomplish all these objectives, the policy calls for districtwide and school-based committees that include parents; and, at each school, a community school teacher or coordinator who can be paid by either the district or a partner organization.

Groups already working with the district on community school projects include the Alliance for Public Schools, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, the United Way, Feeding Tampa Bay and the Boys and Girls Club.


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