Assignment: Education – La Crosse’s new community schools

Two La Crosse elementary school buildings are taking part in a new school concept.

The La Crosse School District is moving forward with its plan to create community schools.

Both the Hamilton and SOTA 1 Elementary school building and the Northside and Coulee Montessori Elementary school building will now be known as community schools.

You can think of a community school as both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community services.

The concept is being thought of as a proactive approach to meeting the needs of families, at two high-need schools, in an effort to improve student learning.

Educators in the La Crosse School District are finding that teaching children doesn’t just happen between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. The principal at Northside-Coulee Montessori Elementary says it’s a bigger process.

“In order for our children to learn, they need to be housed properly. They need to eat properly. They need to have safe things to do after school. Their parents need to be gainfully employed,” said Northside-Coulee Montessori Principal Laura Huber. “All of these things are going to be critical in order for a child to make progress.”

So the district is hiring two community school coordinators for Northside-Coulee Montesorri and Hamilton-SOTA I schools to help assess the needs of the families in those school communities in hopes of improving student learning.

“You’re going to hear this word a lot, this ‘needs assessment,’ and being thorough about that,” said Hamilton-SOTA I Principal Steve Michaels. “It’s really going to drive the work of this coordinator.”
“For example, it could be that one of the priorities is that we need to have parents have access to GED programs,” said Huber. “And so then the community school would organize and facilitate that process.”

The district plans to have the community school coordinators in place next school year, which is when parents will begin to notice additional efforts to help families connect with the community in an effort to meet their needs before their needs turn into a barrier.

“You can only benefit from having a community come together as one, and whatever those services are obviously with La Crosse as forward thinking as it is, they are definitely going to do the services that are needed whether it be for the children or for the families,” said Hamilton parent Timothy Ewers.

Hamilton has already conducted two preliminary needs assessments.

“There is a very clear need for evening and weekend activities for kids,” said Michaels. “To go a little further, there seems to be a need for arts-type activities that would be happening during those times. There was a real need for mental health. There was a real need for dental.”

Once the school community’s needs are clearly established, the school’s community coordinator will find the proper resources to meet the family’s needs.

“For example, we wouldn’t necessarily hold a GED class, and pay for the instructor and all that might happen,” said Huber, “but the community school coordinator might reach out to somebody like Western or some other organization and facilitate our parents attending that GED class.”

So the school isn’t necessarily providing all of the resources — just making sure families are connected to what they need.

“When I came to La Crosse, one of the things that attracted me to La Crosse was the way the community steps up to support the children,” said Huber, “and there has never been a time at Northside Elementary when we have had a want or a need that somebody in the community hasn’t stepped forward. So I see that this is just a continuation of that work.”

“It’s about absolutely not accepting failure and backsliding in our school,” said Michaels.
And to do that the community schools will be partnering with local agencies to take a comprehensive approach to a child’s education.

The community school coordinators will be paid for out of a fund called “Fund 80.” This fund is a targeted amount of money that schools use to work with communities.