It isn’t often that Cesar Chavez Elementary in the Mission has out-of-town visitors, but on a recent afternoon school staffer Carlo Solis led a dozen people from as far away as Washington, D.C., across the yard.
As children in the after-school program tossed a rubber ball around beneath a colorful mural of the school’s namesake, Solis offered tips on how to get busy parents to come to school events.
“All of our meetings are catered, which is key,” said Solis, whose title is community school coordinator. “Childcare is free. Those are things I didn’t realize until we had a meeting without them and no one showed up.”
The group was in The City for the 2012 Community Schools National Forum, a gathering of 1,400 educators and advocates from 36 states who are interested in the concept of bringing healthcare, social services and community groups into public schools to combat the troubles that often plague urban children.
“We came to San Francisco because the Bay Area’s a hotbed for community schools,” said Martin Blank, head of the Coalition for Community Schools, which organized the conference and set up visits to dozens of Bay Area schools that are putting the idea into practice.
“I’m hoping to see how they operate their community schools, how they integrate with the school district,” said Peggy Samolinski, who runs a community schools program in Multnomah County, Ore., and joined the tour of Cesar Chavez. “It’s one thing to hear about it and another to come and see it.”
The San Francisco Unified School District has been creating community schools since 2009, when The City received a $500,000 grant to help set up services at a handful of pilot schools. Although the grant ran out this year, the district is working to expand the idea to all of its schools, with the help of community-based organizations that provide after-school programs, healthcare, parenting classes and other services.
Kelly Vaillancourt, director of government relations for the National Association of School Psychologists in Maryland, said she was hoping to gather ideas she could share with the group’s 24,000 members.
“It’s given me a lot of ideas and a lot of information,” she said, after visits to Chavez and at James Denman Middle School in Mission Terrace. “I have to say, so far it’s exceeded my expectations.”