Schools as Centers of Innovation in and for Their Communities: Political and Civic Leaders Recognize That Successful Schools Can Contribute to Community Revitalization and Economic Development. Schools Can Add Values-As Well as Value-To Their Neighborhoods

By Washor, Elliot; Mojkowski, Charles | Nation's Cities Weekly, February 7, 2005 | Go to article overview

Schools as Centers of Innovation in and for Their Communities: Political and Civic Leaders Recognize That Successful Schools Can Contribute to Community Revitalization and Economic Development. Schools Can Add Values-As Well as Value-To Their Neighborhoods


Washor, Elliot, Mojkowski, Charles, Nation's Cities Weekly


Communities have always had high expectations for their schools. Lately, those expectations have risen even higher.

Political and civic leaders recognize that successful schools can contribute to community revitalization and economic development.

Schools can add values--as well as value--to their neighborhoods.

Many cities have focused on high school reform as a major engine of their revitalization. Several districts--including Oakland, Calif., San Diego, Calif., Camden, N.J., and Mapleton, Colo.--are establishing a system of choice across different high school designs.

In Indianapolis, Mayor Bart Peterson is a charter school authorizer, taking a direct role in building such a diverse portfolio of schools for students and families.

Many more, however, need to develop a portfolio of alternatives for high schools

Such a portfolio should include designs that push the envelope for what a high school should look like and what it should accomplish for students, their families and the community.

There are limits to how much improvement can be wrung from the existing system. Making the existing high school system better will not be enough to have significant impact.

City and school leaders need to think about student achievement in radically different ways, refine those approaches and make them part of the system.

The Big Picture Company

The Big Picture Company--a non-profit educational change organization--has developed many programs and services that go beyond what schools normally provide, including school and community health services, fitness centers, performance centers and adult learning centers.

Big Picture schools establish strong linkages with higher education, businesses, family services and community recreational activities. The schools integrate parks and recreation, museums and business partnerships into the school through learning plans.

These design components were developed in our first school, the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (The Met) in Providence, R.I. In The Met's first five years, 100 percent of students who have applied to college have been accepted. On average, 85 percent of Met graduates go on to college or a technical training program immediately after high school.

These are exceptional numbers considering that more than 80 percent of Met students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, 34 percent live in homes where English is a second language and 75 percent are the first in their families to attend college.

The Important Options

Big Picture schools have found that school reform initiatives do not fail because they put too little emphasis on curriculum and accountability.

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Schools as Centers of Innovation in and for Their Communities: Political and Civic Leaders Recognize That Successful Schools Can Contribute to Community Revitalization and Economic Development. Schools Can Add Values-As Well as Value-To Their Neighborhoods
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