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My View By Julia Bergen March 2021

Dear Friends of Communities In Schools,

We are deeply grateful to Santa Fe Public Schools Board President, Kate Noble and Superintendent Veronica Garcia for their strong commitment to Communities In Schools. Increasingly, community school strategies have been identified as an effective approach to mitigating poverty-related barriers and inequity leading to thriving school communities and students. Working closely with school leaders and partners from across the state, the Communities In Schools team is committed to building a strong community school network and strategy that will transform the public education experience for all students in New Mexico.

Commitment to community schools pays off in Santa Fe

My View by Julia Bergen Executive Director, Communities In Schools (Published March 20, 2021)

A recent Santa Fe Public Schools virtual Board of Education meeting was refreshingly uplifting — from joyful student music performances and science project presentations to Superintendent Veronica García’s announcement of a significant increase in graduation rates for the district.

Data from the New Mexico Public Education Department shows that a record 86.3 percent of Santa Fe students graduated in 2020, up 8.6 percent from 2019. In a year of so much loss, stress and justifiable concern about how students are responding to distance learning, this was truly welcome news. During the same meeting, board President Kate Noble announced the district’s Community Schools Resolution — a Collaborative Focus, which formalizes a commitment to an evidence-based community school approach designed to support every student’s personal and academic success.

The resolution aligns with the statewide Community Schools Act signed into law in 2019, which came about after years of work and advocacy by Communities In Schools of New Mexico and other community school leaders from across the state. New Mexico’s Community School Act is designed to provide schools and school districts the structure to create tailored community school strategies that include integrated student supports, active family and community engagement, expanded learning time and opportunities, collaborative leadership, and culturally and linguistically responsive instruction, programs and services that fit the unique needs of students, schools and their communities.

According to the Learning Policy Institute’s 2021 report, “Community Schools — the New Mexico Way,” “National research finds that, when well designed and fully implemented, community schools increase student success and reduce gaps in both opportunity and achievement. Although schools alone cannot ‘fix’ widespread poverty, interventions that provide additional supports and resources can mitigate its disadvantages by reducing gaps in students’ learning opportunities, improve students’ outcomes, create more positive school climates, and foster trusting relationships among adults and children that are crucial for learning.”

Communities In Schools of New Mexico is one of several nationally recognized community school models that has enjoyed a strong partnership with our public schools for the past nine years. In that time, the organization has grown to serve more than half of the district’s student body at 10 Title One schools. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, our bilingual community school coordinators intensified their focus on student and family health and stability. A regularly updated family strengths and needs assessment ensured they could respond quickly to immediate needs and concerns. They provided access to technology necessary for distance learning and distributed groceries, meals and hygiene kits.

In addition, they monitored students’ well-being by phone and video conferencing and connected them to tutors and social/emotional supports. And they distributed more than $300,000 in emergency financial support to address the most dire financial needs, such as housing and utility security, of our students and their families with great thanks to support from anonymous donors and CARES Act funds from Santa Fe County. Our ability to do this work is a strong testament to the positive impact of a community school strategy formed through the intentional collaboration between schools, students and diverse community voices and partners. By connecting vital community partners, essential resources and programs to students, schools and families, Communities In Schools of New Mexico continues to see a demonstrable improvement in school climate, student and family engagement, and well-being and academic improvement. These factors underlie and bolster student success, and contribute to improved graduation rates and overall community well-being and prosperity.

In short, community school strategies work. However, it takes all of us getting involved to make it work. Now more than ever, we all need to step up and support our public schools and our community’s young people.

Julia Bergen has been the executive director of Communities In Schools of New Mexico since it launched in 2012. She has lived and worked in Santa Fe for 30 years.

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