Policy – Issue 3, Community Schooling Journal

Community Schooling | Issue 3 | Fall 2022

Durham Policy Implementation:

Organizing for Community Schools

Jessica F. Benton, Southeast Missouri State University

Amy L. Anderson, Duke University

Durham, North Carolina is unique. As a historically progressive center in the South, it is not new to organizing. Educators in the area have known for some time that they were not going to be able to meet their students’ needs alone amidst budget cuts and underfunding. Organizing as a community has become a viable way to create better outcomes for students. Implementing community schools has opened policy windows and opportunities for change.

January 2015

The Why Behind What We Did:
The Union Reform Network

As champions of public schools, we attended conferences and talks that exposed us to new models and ideas. We first learned about community schools at a conference in Tampa, FL. At the time, we had been looking for a way to create more teacher autonomy while meeting our students’ needs. This model appeared to be the answer we sought.

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May 2017

How We Began to Learn:
Community Schools Institute

We were invited to attend a week-long institute solely for the purposes of creating a local community school and we began to make manifest our aspirations. We engaged with folks representing counties from all over the US as well as folks from the National Educator’s Association, Coalition for Community Schools, and the Center for Popular Democracy.

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Summer 2017

Organizing in Durham

Fresh from the institute, we set up a team of folks with organizing experience and assets to bring to a community school model. We met monthly to discuss possible funding sources and from whom in the district we needed to rally support. This forum was also the incubator for bringing in a full time organizer.

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Fall 2017

Innovative School District Takeover

Lakewood Elementary School was threatened with state takeover after a policy was created promoting innovative school districts for “failing” schools. The Durham affiliate for the North Carolina Association of Educators rallied behind staff and families from the school to resist takeover. After weeks of protests and demonstrations, the district agreed to try a new approach and implement a community school model.

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January 2018

Garnering Support: The Organizer

After a month’s long search, we hired a full time organizer to continue to talk to folks and garner support for the community school model. Her work proved critical to making the implementation happen, and she would later become Lakewood’s Community School Organizer.

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March 2018

A School Board Resolution

The Durham School Board agreed to a resolution regarding Community Schools. It was a major win for us to get majority support from local governance.

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September 2018

Establishing New Leadership:
Durham Public Schools Foundation

A foundation for public schools was created in Durham. Folks serving on the foundation would eventually take over leadership of the Bull City Community Schools Partnership. This foundation also served as the entity leading and managing the Community School Organizers.

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October 2018

The Steering Committee

We convened a group of local institutions in Durham coming together monthly to see how they could help with the community schools’ implementation. The Durham Association of Educators, Durham Parks and Recreation, DPS Foundation, School Board, Duke University, Durham Public Schools, and City Manager’s office were just a few of the institutions represented. Many from this group would eventually become the Steering Committee for the BCCSP.

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Spring 2019

Modeling Effective Practice:
The Asset and Needs Assessment

The Community School Organizer began the asset and needs assessment process by creating a work team comprised of staff and parents. After months of planning, the group decided to conduct one-on-one interviews with parents, students, and staff asking what they liked about their school, what they would like to see change, and how they would like to see those improvements made.

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August 2019

Developing Support:
Forming Goal Teams

Lakewood Elementary started the 2019-2020 school year by creating goal teams derived from the asset and needs assessment data. They chose to focus on academic supports, social emotional support, after school enrichment, and home/family support and communication. The entire staff was very eager to sign up and start the work.

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September 2019

Cultivating Community School Leaders:
Principal Leadership Fellowship

Leadership in the DPS Foundation created a cohort for principals to study community school models across the US. They explored how leadership can be cultivated and shared at the school level, a critical necessity for successful community schools.

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April 2020

Adapting the Work During COVID-19

As the epidemic unfolded, Lakewood used the goal team structures to support students and families. Focus shifted to creating rigorous online instruction, strengthening communication networks with families, and fundraising for families in need. Thousands of dollars were raised to help families as they adjusted to the new normal.

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Parent Leadership and Community Schools

The BCCSP hired a parent organizer during the 2020-2021 school year. Just one year later, they added Family Resource Centers to foster and nurture relationships between community schools and the families they serve. These centers acted as one-stop-shops coordinating multiple services.


What’s Next?

The Durham Public Schools Superintendent chooses a new school to add to the community schools family. Fayetteville Street Elementary School will be the next public school to implement the community school model. In addition, parents from community schools have been hired to begin a parent organizing campaign for community schools.

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Jessica F. Benton, PhD,  has been in education for 18 years. She earned a Masters of Education in Special Education from NCSU, and received her PhD in Education at UNC at Chapel Hill. She taught special education in North Carolina where she organized around public school issues. Her research focuses on community schools, teacher retention, and locally grown teacher programs. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Exceptional Child Education at Southeast Missouri State University. 

Amy L. Anderson, PhD is an Assistant Professor of the Practice in Duke’s Program in Education where she teaches courses in the Foundations of Education, School Resegregation, and Critical Studies in Education. Amy is a Faculty Consultant for Duke Service-Learning and a Team Lead for Durham University-Assisted Community Schools Research Collective. Amy’s research focuses on facilitating meaningful student pathways through the integration of curricular and co-curricular experiences.