This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Asked to describe her first year as the community schools coordinator at Southwark School in South Philadelphia, Beth Dougherty laughed.
"Hectic," she said.
That harried feeling comes partly from being in a K-8 school every day, with its myriad crises and endless activity. Part of it comes from trying to establish and grow the idea that Southwark can be a neighborhood nerve center for community services.
Dougherty, like the eight other coordinators at Philadelphia’s first batch of community schools, spent a lot of her first year planning. She surveyed parents, students, and staff to figure out what kinds of outside resources they’d like. Then she created plans to fill in those gaps. Finally, as the school year closed, she started bringing in new outside partners and improving the coordination among those already operating within the school.
"I garden a lot, and it really is that explosion that happens in the middle of the summer where, all of a sudden, you have tomatoes," said Dougherty. "That’s what it feels like."
It’s been an explosive start for community schools, Mayor Kenney’s signature K-12 education initiative. Plans originally called for five to seven schools in the first year, with 25 by the time Kenney ends his first term. Instead, the city selected nine schools in the first cohort. All nine released school plans in March that outline their goals for the next two years.