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Communities in Schools: A worthwhile investment for the New River Valley and Pulaski County

By THOMAS BREWSTER

Superintendent, Pulaski County Public Schools

The Governor’s Biennial Budget for 2012-14 funds Communities In Schools (CIS) for $525,000 for each year of the budget. These funds are currently being used to expand CIS programming throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Communities In Schools is a forty year old, nationwide organization dedicated to two things – preventing children from dropping out of school and helping them graduate. A statewide public-private 501(c)(3) organization, CIS identifies at-risk students in low performing schools. These at-risk students are then surrounded with coordinated community support services so that they stay in school, graduate and obtain meaningful post-secondary training, education, or work. Throughout CIS’s forty-year journey, they have learned that students who do not get these services tend to drop out; those who do get them tend to stay in school. So, to use a business term, Communities In Schools is a “leverage point” to enable access to resources by those who need them most, and at a delivery point where we know they can be accessed effectively — in school.

Having served 15,025 students in nearly 40 schools last year at a cost of $154 per student,

CIS has been asked to replicate their successful program in other areas of Virginia.

Currently sites are being established in several new areas of the Commonwealth.

The requested funding dollars have been used to develop Communities In Schools model programs in the target areas; provide technical assistance to assure adherence to national total quality standards; develop a community base of support; and, develop a board of directors and other local leadership.

Several years ago, I toured a Communities In School (CIS) site in Richmond, Virginia. Throughout my tour, I was amazed at the amount of support given to students, and the unique partnerships that were developed to assist student with reaching the goal of graduating from high school. Most of all, I was impressed that decisions within the program were data driven, and the approach used to educate these students was a proven research-based process. Since then, I have been a strong advocate for bringing CIS to the New River Valley as a regional program.

A high dropout rate is one of the most persistent social ills with which our society must deal. According to a June report by the Alliance for Excellent Education, if Virginia were to reduce the dropouts from 2010 by half (16,200), they would likely add $207 million in increased earnings, $19 million in tax revenue and $150 million in home sales. Failure to tackle this issue effectively means our public education system will be mired in a cycle of underperformance for the indefinite future. These statistics speak only to the cumulative impact of dropping out; the costs to individuals are staggering as well.

As Superintendent of Pulaski County Public Schools, I am excited about the possibility of bringing Communities In Schools of Virginia to our region for many reasons – one of which is pure economics. According to that same June report by the Alliance for Excellent Education on the effects of reducing the class of 2008 dropouts by 50 percent, after earning a high school diploma, fifty-two (52) percent of these new graduates would likely continue on to pursue some type of postsecondary education. An educated population is a large driver of economic development.

Scientific research showed that the Communities In Schools’ model works. It both reduces dropout rates and increases on-time graduation rates. Through the CIS data based approach, they can guarantee accountability in every aspect of this program. CIS will track and report on their effectiveness with a set of metrics for measuring success. Thus, CIS is not offering an experiment, or “a wing and a prayer”, but rather a proven, nationally tested and replicable program. Communities In Schools is a cost-effective and accountable program with a 40-year track record addressing a problem that is a drain on our economy.

CIS can provide support that will aid in full and complete employment of our young work force. Furthermore, accreditation ratings for 2011-2012 are the first to include a Graduation and Completion Index (GCI) for high schools. This new accountability measure was approved by the Board of Education in 2009. In addition, the Pulaski County School Board is committed to increasing our graduation rate, and furthering learning opportunities for all of our students. “Our students are facing greater challenges, and we want to provide them with a better chance to succeed in school and graduate,” said Michael Barbour, Chairman of the Pulaski County School Board.

Pulaski County Public Schools could benefit from a research-based program with the longevity and success achieved by CIS to provide the tools needed to increase graduation rates. Therefore, Pulaski County Public Schools enthusiastically support the Governor’s continued funding of Communities in Schools, and the CIS approach to dropout prevention. Furthermore, the Pulaski County School Board has authorized me to form a task force to study the feasibility of bringing Communities in Schools to the New River Valley and Pulaski County Public Schools.

For additional information about Communities in Schools, visit www.communitiesinschools.org.

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