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It takes a community

Schools in UFT initiative show improvement

Principal Mark House (center) and UFT President Michael Mulgrew celebrate CHAH’s Erica Berger

Principal Mark House (center) and UFT President Michael Mulgrew celebrate CHAH’s accomplishments.

Chapter Leader Rob Karp explains the school’s success. Erica Berger

Chapter Leader Rob Karp explains the school’s success.

CHAH staffers Morgann Schaefer (left) and Jasmina Purisic listen to colleagues. Erica Berger

CHAH staffers Morgann Schaefer (left) and Jasmina Purisic listen to colleagues.

The UFT’s Community Learning Schools Initiative is reporting academic gains, with the schools that have been part of the 4-year-old initiative the longest showing the most improvement.

“We still have a great deal of work ahead of us, but early indications tell us that Community Learning Schools can help combat the effects of poverty in our classrooms and offer an option that can be scaled up to reach more students, not just the lucky few,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

To support and promote the program’s success to date, the union has hired an outside firm to look at student outcomes — social, emotional, academic and physical — to help tease out which programs at the 28 Community Learning Schools are having the greatest impact.

At a Sept. 7 meeting with staff at Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHAH) in Washington Heights, one of the original schools in the initiative and the one that has shown the most progress, Mulgrew applauded the staff’s accomplishments: “You are doing what others say can’t be done.”

UFT members jumped right in when UFT Vice President Karen Alford invited them to join a “lively conversation to share what works.”

Chapter Leader Rob Karp attributed the school’s academic success, improved graduation rates and overall general well-being to an array of different things. “This is not just a one-day wonder,” Karp said. “It’s the work of our social workers, the Teacher Center’s phenomenal training and the support and love that all these teachers pour out every day.”

Again and again, teachers spoke of how the additional social services and community support provided as part of the Community Learning Schools Initiative address the needs of their at-risk students so they are free to concentrate on their academic responsibilities.

Global history teacher Yolanda James joins the conversation.Erica BergerGlobal history teacher Yolanda James joins the conversation.

Because the initiative is designed to benefit the entire neighborhood where a school is located, CHAH families are stronger, with more than 500 adults enrolled in ESL, adult education and wellness classes and more than 6,000 community members enrolled in the health clinic housed in the 6th–12th-grade school.

Yvonne Stennett, the executive director of the Community League of the Heights, the school’s longstanding community partner, spoke about the CHAH staff’s commitment and belief in the students. “The only way education works is if the whole community is involved,” she said.

ENL teacher Rebecca Stanton said, “The plethora of all the initiatives coming together and the wealth of resources — that’s huge.”

“I don’t have to be a doctor or a psychologist or a mommy anymore,” another teacher said. “Now I can concentrate on my job, which is to teach.“

Rebecca Stanton (right) describes how their “wealth of resources” has helped stuErica BergerRebecca Stanton (right) describes how their “wealth of resources” has helped students as colleagues Leah Werner (left) and Emily Doscher listen.

Most of all, the staff credited a supportive administration for creating a comfort zone at the school that encourages creative thinking and accepts failure. Stanton described CHAH as “a wonderful place to work.”

Principal Mark House said his school and community partners had a vision for their school that matched what the UFT was trying to do. That convergence “sold” him on joining the initiative in its infancy. He said the school’s work is a “constant evolution and staff get to watch me make mistakes, too.”

His goal for this year is an 82 percent graduation rate, which would be 10 percent higher than the citywide average.

Thanking the CHAH staff, Mulgrew said, “I talk about you all the time across the country. Our goal is to show this is the model that works. This is how you do it.”

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