Hartford Community Schools
The Hartford Community Schools initiative continued its growth – and earned national recognition – as it completed its third year at some of the most challenged schools in the city in 2011.
The five-school initiative was launched in 2008 in conjunction with a school reform plan to close the achievement gap between Hartford students and their suburban counterparts. The Hartford Foundation was instrumental in its creation, offering insights and lessons learned from its long-running After-School Initiative, and supported the effort with a three-year, $3.1 million grant. In 2011, that commitment was renewed with over $1.6 million in grants for a fourth year.
Built around a strong instructional core, community schools remain open well beyond the hours of a regular school day – before and after school, into the evening, even weekends, and throughout the summer – to offer an array of educational, cultural, medical and social services for the entire family.
The Hartford Foundation grants are awarded to three nonprofit agencies, which coordinate the services with school officials. Services added at some schools during 2011 included a mobile health van, financial literacy classes for parents, a dinner program for students and parents, a pre-school program to provide a safe place to complete homework, and a collaborative program with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
Four of the five schools historically have been among Hartford’s most persistently low-performing. Four also serve a large number of English Language Learners and students with special needs. While the core of each community school is the same – academic instruction, support and enrichment – the overall profile of each school varies based on the particular needs of students and families. Hartford has 25,000 students, with more than 90 percent classified as living in poverty. Hartford is the second poorest city per capita in the country, while Connecticut is the second wealthiest state in the nation in median income.
While Community Schools hold great promise, their full development is complex and arduous. But the concept of addressing children’s educational needs holistically corresponds with our strategic plan, Accelerate Success. Sara Sneed, director of education investments at the Hartford Foundation
Hartford Community Schools’ progress was showcased in October at a conference held in New York City by the National Center for Community Schools, a division of The Children’s Aid Society of New York. Building Community Schools: A Guide for Action, an 80-page report prepared for the conference, also noted about Hartford’s community schools: “An external evaluation conducted by the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning in Philadelphia showed significant results for students in the after-school programs of the five community schools, including gains across the three Connecticut Mastery Test subject areas.”
Sandra Ward, director of Hartford Community Schools, along with the site director from one school and an evaluator, spoke at a conference workshop that focused on approaches to evaluation, results, and best practices in Hartford. Two additional community schools are in a planning stage during the 2011-12 academic year with a broader launch of services scheduled for 2012-13.
Hartford Community Schools are supported by a partnership of the Hartford Foundation, Hartford Public Schools, the City of Hartford, represented by its Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation, the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, and Achieve Hartford!, a nonprofit advocate for education reform. Additional funding is provided by state and federal agencies and corporations.