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Community Schools at Center of Mayor's Education Agenda

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TWC News: Community Schools at Center of Mayor's Education Agenda
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For the past few years, the city's teachers union has been quietly lobbying for schools to be transformed into community centers, with social services alongside academics, and now, that's the plan at the center of Mayor Bill de Blasio's education agenda. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

The Community Health Academy of the Heights is the type of public school where students can get a new pair of glasses and three healthy meals a day, where parents can access jobtraining sessions, mental health providers and help finding housing.

It's an example of a community school, not a new idea but one that's gained traction, and is now set to gain hundreds of millions in public funding, thanks in large part to the teachers' union.

"It is actually a lot better than almost any other model we've ever seen," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

For the past three years, the union has been giving money to schools in the city to transform into so-called community schools. It now sponsors two dozen. Union leaders hoped for a lot more, though, so last year, they took candidates for mayor, including Bill de Blasio, on trips to Cincinnati to see community schools there.

Now, the mayor has committed to opening 134 additional community schools while the teachers' union continues to drum up support. Thursday, it hosted tours of Community Health Academy for elected officials, educators and advocates.

"This is a great model with a lot of success," said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan of Queens. "But then the question is, how do we replicate it?"

If you look at the test scores and graduation rates at many of the community schools in the city, including this one, you'll see many students continue to struggle academically despite all of the extra support.

However, the schools say it's important to note their growth. Since they serve high-needs student populations, students are already lacking academic skills when they arrive. So while only 12 percent of the middle-school students here passed the state reading test last year, that's way up from 3 percent the year before.

"If you take a look at growth, all of a sudden, the school looks very, very, very good," said Mark House, the school's principal.

Though the teachers' union may have been the main force behind the expansion of community schools in the city, it's not something the mayor highlights. In fact, when de Blasio discusses his community school policies, he rarely, if ever, even mentions the powerful union.

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