In 2010-13 educators within the Dothan City Schools (DCS) System were trying to navigate a silent storm. Test scores would rise one year, and fall the next. Academic improvements were not consistent across grades, cohorts, schools, years, or subjects. Curricular and teaching interventions were continually hampered by the ever-increasing complexity and gravity of challenges faced by school children and their families-- challenges that seemed beyond the reach of the schools, but were severely affecting student progress. Dozens of programs and countless hours of hard work by teachers and staff were constantly deployed, but it did not seem to be enough to break through.
At the same time, unknown to DCS, Wiregrass Foundation (a health-legacy foundation based in Dothan) was reviewing the impact of its nearly $8 million dollars invested in local schools, much of that in Dothan. While Foundation staff and Board members remained committed to public education, they agreed they should be “moving the needle” that measures student academic achievement. Certainly there were individual success stories, but the overall picture was not changing. WF leadership began asking where best to apply resources to make a substantial and lasting impact on the academic success of Dothan’s children.
Simultaneously, though still unknown to one another, these two discussions led both organizations to consider the same possible strategy - community schools/community learning centers. What could be accomplished if a school became the centerpiece that merged student, school, family, and neighborhood programs together with a constant focus on the academic achievement of every child?
In 2014, Dothan City Schools and Wiregrass Foundation joined forces, and Bright Key® was the result. The two organizations committed to a formal partnership. DCS would open three elementary schools to the Bright Key® pilot program, leading the way for transformation. The system would commit the significant expertise and time of educators, and help bring together the parents, teachers, and other partners under the roof of each Bright Key® school. Wiregrass Foundation would commit the resources to establish the program in Dothan and develop full Bright Key® initiatives in three elementary schools. These included a contracted program developer dedicated to program design and development, and a full-time Resource Coordinator employed for each Bright Key® school. Bright Key® planners researched and adopted the best components of national community school initiatives, and added features that are unique to Dothan.
THESE FEATURES ARE AS FOLLOWS:
Stakeholder driven - all programs initiated in any of the three BK schools are researched, discussed, selected, directed, and assessed by the parents, teachers, and partners.
Embedded marketing – Bright Key® is uniquely Dothan’s “brand” of community schools.
Embedded communication – All forms of print, electronic, and social media are employed to keep the public informed and engaged.
Embedded assessment -- Goals are established; benchmarks are identified; measurement is quantitative, qualitative, and continual; and results are reported to the stakeholder communities and to the public at large.