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Support for Community Schools Threatened in State Budget Proposal

Joselyn Ault

CommPACT’s Family and Community Engagement Specialist Jocelyn Ault and West Side Middle School parent volunteer Heather Greene, with her daughter Abigail, prepare to testify before the Appropriations Committee.

Community Schools in Connecticut have had important successes improving student achievement, enhancing parent-school relationships, and providing much needed community supports in some of our neediest districts. These achievements are all at risk due to a funding cut in the governor’s proposed budget.

Parents, educators, and community engagement experts spoke out yesterday at a hearing of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee against the governor’s proposed elimination of funding to the CommPACT Community Schools Collaborative, highlighting the importance of the program.

“We cannot expect that our classroom teachers can in seven, or even nine hours a day, for 180 or so days, carry all the burden of remediating language barriers, trauma, learning disabilities, food insecurity, lack of sleep, and all of the other areas that impact learning in their classroom. We have to create support systems through our families and caregivers,” Jocelyn Ault, CommPACT’s Family and Community Engagement Specialist, told legislators.

Family engagement is widely seen as one of the most important means schools have of ensuring student success, and family engagement is a key component of CommPACT.

CommPACT—which stands for Community, Parents, Administrators, Children, and Teachers—is a turnaround approach based on the establishment and coordination of parent involvement and community engagement programs and activities. It’s run by a board of directors that includes CEA and other education stakeholder groups, and currently operates in four urban school districts.

It’s already seen results including improved student attendance at Bassick High School in Bridgeport and increased parental involvement at Bassick, West Side Middle School in Waterbury, and O’Brien STEM Academy in East Hartford.

“Over the past year and a half, staff and parents have noted greatly increased family engagement, including both numbers of events for families and attendance at these events,” said Lesley Morgan Thompson, principal of O’Brien STEM Academy. “We have multiple parent volunteers regularly helping in the school, for the first time. More family members are engaged in our PTO, and our school governance council has an active community member for the first time this year.”

O’Brien’s family resource center houses a food pantry as well as space for parent meetings and computers for parents to use.

West Side Middle School parent volunteer Heather Greene also spoke glowingly about the parent room CommPACT has brought to her daughter’s school.

“When parents come into the school with an issue, a meeting, anything, they can come in to this room and sit down, have a cup of coffee, talk to other parents that may be there at the time, research on the computers, check email, and the list goes on. Our Parent Resource Room has helped many parents to be able to apply for jobs, write their resumes, and print out needed forms.”

Ault urged legislators to take a proactive approach to improving Connecticut’s urban centers by preserving CommPACT funding.

“As long as we leave thousands of urban youth behind, we will have to support entitlement programs and prisons,” Ault said. “I want my tax dollars to go to building our community.”

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