This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
When starting a job, it’s always nice to hear some words of encouragement, especially when those words come from the mayor of Philadelphia. Mayor Kenney greeted 17 of the city’s newest employees Wednesday, all of them hired to help carry out Philadelphia’s community schools initiative. The cohort gathered at a city office just north of Center City for the first installment of a six-day boot camp, after which they’ll be dispatched to schools around the city.
It was a giddy, ribbon-cutting sort of moment for Kenney, who has bet big on community schools and promises to create 25 of them over the next five years.
“I am so excited that you’re willing to do this. I really am,” he told the staffers. “I think you’re just wonderful people that want to do this. This is the height of public service.”
Kenny’s administration envisions community schools as a way to break the cycle of poverty. It’s also been framed by many as an antidote to the turnaround reform model, where schools undergo drastic staffing shake-ups, are converted into charters, or both.
Community schools are supposed to become hubs for services that can address the health and emotional needs of low-income children. Those needs, the mayor said, must be addressed before children can learn and prosper.
“That’s why this is one of the most critical positions that we’re gonna hire,” Kenny said. “You’re gonna be the intermediary, you’re gonna intercede in those problems that parents face, that teachers face, that neighborhoods face.”
Philadelphia named its first nine community schools in July. Each will get a site coordinator responsible for diagnosing the problems that plague each school and recruiting outside groups to help solve those problems. The coordinators will have the support of eight other specialists within the mayor’s community schools office.
The positions pay roughly $50,000 to $60,000 annually depending on prior experience, said Susan Gobreski, director of the city’s community schools initiative. The city will fund the effort with money collected from its new tax on sweetened beverages.
The new staffers will arrive at their schools shortly before the new school year begins, and little is expected to change immediately. The fall has been set aside for site coordinators to do needs assessments and craft strategic plans for each school, Gobreski said. Only by January will the schools begin to house new services or programs. Even then, Gobreski said, don’t expect a flood of fancy new toys.
“A community school is not a facility,” Gobreski said. “A community school is a way of doing things and a broader view of what needs to happen.”