A dentist peered into his two-year-old patient’s mouth and grimaced. Almost all of her teeth were rotten, and he hated to think what would have happened to her health had she not had access to this small dental clinic — a place that, despite its humble proportions and location (three chairs, tucked into a pre-K-12 public school called Oyler Learning Center), serves about 4,000 children a year.
When Philly Mayor-elect Jim Kenney and City Council President Darrell Clarke saw that clinic during a visit last month to Oyler, which is in Cincinnati, they were moved.
A week later, standing in the brightly lit gymnasium at Tanner G. Duckrey School in North Philly, flanked by prominent city leaders, including Superintendent William Hite, School Reform Commission Chair Marjorie Neff, and teachers union president Jerry Jordan, they were ready to rally the room.
“We can’t just wait for Superman. We have to fix this,” Kenney said. In front of a crowd of students and reporters, he formalized his campaign promise to bring 25 community learning centers like Oyler to Philadelphia by the end of his first term.
But what the heck is a community learning center? Is it just a buzzword?
Community learning centers like Cincinnati’s Oyler, also known as “community schools,” function simultaneously as schools and hubs that deliver resources to students, their families, and their neighbors.
At its best, the model is cost-efficient (it relies heavily on businesses, nonprofits and universities to carry service costs), customizable (each school has its own advisory board, which selects resources and chooses partners), and empowering (in Cincinnati, each advisory board annually reviews partner-school outcomes to decide if changes are necessary).
It’s an exchange: Locals get improved access to services that keep them healthy, and community partners get free facilities and a competition-free market.
In Philly, the closest thing we have to a community school is Sayre High School in West Philly, or South Philadelphia High. The first has a strong relationship with the University of Pennsylvania, and the second is led by principal (and Kenney’s soon-to-be Chief Education Officer) Otis Hackney, who has helped it partner with dozens of organizations over the last few years. Read more »