The U.S. public education system is not built to meet the needs of all students. Unfortunately, this is not a new, or even particularly controversial, conclusion.
For some time now, the evidence has been clear enough and visible enough for any reasonable person to see the reality; K-12 public education has systemic flaws with tragic consequences for the lives of Black, Brown, Indigenous students, and for students living in poverty. In fact, more than 40 years ago, it’s why Communities in Schools was founded.
This past year, crises in public health, racial justice, and economic uncertainty amplified that reality and laid it bare. We saw the consequences on our screens, on our streets, and in our schools. It was horrifying, devastating, but not at all new. The same problem, resulting from the same systemic inequities.
But as I reflected on it all, I also found a reason for hope. I believe the brutal clarity of what we saw this past year has led many to begin to see it differently.
For some people and institutions, there was a deeper recognition and acceptance of the uncomfortable truth that solving a systemic problem means changing the current system - and changing the current system means changing the roles, resources, and influence of the people and institutions in it. I am not naive. While a change in perspective is an essential step and reason for hope; it does not bring us close to ending the problem. There is real work to be done. There are actions to be taken. All of us must reexamine our ways of thinking, doing, and being. We can and must do more.
For Communities In Schools, the events of this past year changed our view as well. We believe we have a moral obligation to respond - not by reflexively adding more activity in more places, but by following a thoughtful and inclusive process to reassess our own priorities, plan, and culture to ensure we’re having the most important impacts on both the student and the system. That belief drove us to conduct a reassessment of our five-year strategic plan. I invite you to review the complete summary of the Refreshed Plan Highlights. The outcome of that process includes:
- Strengthen Our Commitment to Integrated Student Supports (ISS) -We are more committed than ever to implementing with fidelity our evidence-based model of integrated student supports. ISS helps the students who need it most by building relationships and connecting them to the support they need so all students have an equitable opportunity to achieve their own success. ISS is an essential and urgently needed part of a more equitable education system.
- Reconnect and Reengage - Schools, students, and parents are in the midst of unprecedented challenges; remote learning, health and safety in classrooms, and learning loss. It is a critical moment. We will work to ensure more equitable learning systems that effectively reengage all students. CIS will play a strong, leadership role in ensuring effective reengagement and creating new more equitable conditions for learning.
- In School and Beyond - While our work in schools remains the foundation of what we do, we recognize that we must work for change from both inside and outside the system. We will take on a more active, deliberate role beyond schools, including amplifying student voices and developing partnerships to advance racial justice. We will also increase our emphasis on supporting alumni efforts to “achieve in life” by helping them be active, visible, and effective in working to improve education at the local, national, and policy levels.
- Increase emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) - Across the organization, we are strengthening our long-standing commitment to DEI. We will develop and implement “local equity coalitions” to help mobilize and coordinate national, affiliate and licensed partner efforts. In addition, CIS will provide training to our alumni network to act in support of social justice on local boards and engage at the affiliate & state office level.
- Focus, Fidelity, Flexibility - Our national office, local affiliates, and licensed partners must respond to this moment as one organization focused on the quality of our work, the sustained implementation of our ISS model with fidelity, and the flexibility to achieve consistent impacts. As we make our way forward through this moment of crisis, our organization must also tend to the need to heal while we grow.
The fact that our public education system does not meet the needs of all students may be old news. But this past year has shown us with new clarity, the unacceptably high costs of old ways of seeing and solving the problem. We believe our updated plan helps us take specific, constructive actions toward new and better ways.
I welcome your thoughts and comments.
National President & CEO
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