New Report Offers Strategies to Align Community Planning with Ed Reform

Schools are inherently connected to their communities, yet educators and community planners rarely work together.  Local school administrators and community planners often work in separate silos, even on issues that affect them both such as school renovation, expansion, or new family housing developments.

A new report from the What Works Collaborative and the Center for Cities and Schools at the University of California, Berkeley, aims to change that by helping planners work with local school districts to improve outcomes for young people.

In “Opportunity-Rich Schools and Sustainable Communities: Seven Steps to Align High-Quality Education with Innovations in City and Metropolitan Planning and Development,” authors Deborah McKoy, Jeffrey Vincent, and Ariel Bierbaum argue that building sustainable communities requires integrated strategies that focus on creating “trajectories of opportunity” for young people throughout their lives.  To succeed students need access to smoothly functioning schools, qualified teachers, jobs with possibilities for advancement, health care, and recreation, for example.   They need support and opportunity for success through all the phases of their lives.

To ensure this positive trajectory, investments in housing, regional transportation, education, social services and economic development should be better aligned, which they say has the potential to create healthier schools and communities and lasting systemic change for residents.

They offer seven steps to ensuring this coordination and cross-pollination takes shape. Rich in case studies, the steps are intended to help federal policymakers and regional planning practitioners tangibly link their work to educational reform:

step 1: Get to know your educational landscape

step 2: Engage school leaders, families, and young people in planning and development

step 3: Establish a shared vision and metrics linking high-quality education to economic prosperity at community and regional levels

step 4: Support the whole life of learners through services and amenities

step 5: Align bricks-and-mortar investments for regional prosperity

step 6: Maximize access to opportunity through transportation

step 7: Institutionalize what works to secure gains and ensure ongoing innovation

The authors interviewed more than 50 civic and educational policymakers, researchers, and practitioners at all levels of government, and a range of community organizations and local leaders to find out what successful partnerships were already taking place and the specific challenges entailed in the process.

Perhaps most compelling are the case studies  of educators, regions, and metro areas working together on community improvement—like the planners in Emeryville, CA, near where I live. There, the city and school district are developing the Emeryville Center of Community Life (ECCL). Funded through a local bond measure, the ECCL will house the district’s secondary school, before- and after-school programming, and city-run programs, services, and activities for students and the community.

Or the Hampton Youth Commission in Hampton, VA, where young residents take part in planning for their city’s future. Acting as an advisory board to the city council, the commission represents the youths’ ideas in the city’s planning and decision-making processes. The youth planners rewrote the city’s bicycle ordinance and assisted in the development of a citywide bikeway system.

Or the Lagniappe Project in New Orleans, which is placing educational facilities at the center of developing communities. The project focuses on a charter school, community health center, and senior center. This approach “leverages the physical redevelopment of schools and neighborhoods to benefit students, families and the whole community.”

These efforts build on recent federal efforts at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to collaborate with other federal departments to better integrate academic, social, and health support systems for families and communities, most significantly in the Promise Neighborhoods and the Full Service Community Schools Program.

Photo by woodleywonderworks.

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