Krista Johnson, Montgomery Advertiser - - Published 1:11 p.m. CT March 22, 2019 | Updated 1:23 p.m. CT March 28, 2019
Parent Liaison Cubie Ray Hayes with the help of JROTC students
loads boxes of foods in the food pantry at Lanier High School in Montgomery, Ala.,
on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Photo: Jake Crandall/ Advertiser)
Camille Finley remembers with clarity the disappointment she felt when she learned the project she had spent nearly three years crafting — to convert two Montgomery public schools into community schools — wasn’t going to happen.
After seeing the community schools concept — which brings additional resources into schools where there is a higher level of students living in poverty — achieve success across the country, Finley landed a grant to implement the model at Davis and Nixon elementary schools.
She visited schools that were offering medical clinics, GED classes, mentoring, tutoring and before- and after-school programs. Some schools, she said, have volunteer networks with 400-plus involved.
Then, the grant funding source was not renewed for a second year, likely due to redistribution of funds once the state's intervention of MPS began, she said.
Two years later, Davis and Nixon still have the after-school programs the initial grant helped implement, but the advances Finley imagined for the school disappeared with the loss of grant money. Both schools received F's on the last state report card and both made it on the most recent “failing” school list.
Another Montgomery public school, though, has managed to implement a similar model. Lanier High School, which Davis and Nixon feed into, has created positions and programs that are often seen in community schools, without an additional funding source. Those involved believe the effort is making a difference.
How the concept started and failed in MPS
Of the $450,000 at-risk grant that was awarded, MPS received $376,000, which funded Finley’s position with the district, a Community School Summit, the after-school programs, summer programs and technology purchases for the two schools, she said.
E.D. Nixon Elementary School in Montgomery, Ala.
on Thursday March 29, 2018.
(Photo: Mickey Welsh / Advertiser)
It was implied that the grant would be awarded a second time, Finley said, however, “as I understand it, the monies that were previously utilized with the grant went to implementing the intervention."
Without the grant, Finley said the district was unable to fund the salaries of coordinators at each of the schools — positions that are at the heart of the community school model.
"Salary is the biggest cost, everything else is networking and connecting," she said.
The coordinator would have been responsible for monitoring a case load of at least 10 percent of the school population. The job would be to identify students most at risk of falling behind and track their attendance, behavior and provide support to them and their family's. By doing this, Finley said, it helps the student but also helps teachers.
"Teachers talk about extra roles — this helps take some of that burden. They don’t have to stop class to call home about absences or behavior, the coordinator does that,” Finley said.
Additionally, the focus on a core group of students sets a better example for their peers, she said.