Meet Tracy Brown. She is a well known community schools practitioner in San Francisco. She works tirelessly to ensure that there is community voice, shared leadership, and common vision in San Francisco Unified School District’s community schools approach. Currently, she works with Mission Promise Neighborhood. We are excited to introduce you to Tracy and to give you a ground-level look at her work with this important initiative, as well as to her wealth of experience and knowledge about community schools, in this issue’s Voices from the Field.
What is your personal and professional background and how it has led to your current position? Discuss your current position as well.
My early career was working for nonprofits. My first real job was being the Director of Mission Girls Services. This was a gender specific girls program that was targeted at addressing Latina girls. In this program I worked with many young women of the Mission and mentored them to be agents of change in their communities. The legacy of the girls is amazing. This small but mighty program touched thousands of girls and then provided the community with the celebration of International Women’s Day. The program goals were to promote healthy, informed decisions. At the time the pregnancy rate amongst Latina girls was rising despite the decline in other races. Peggy Ornstein came out with her first book, “School Girls”. This environment allowed for gender specific programming to become a focus in the city. I served on various task forces and became a commissioner for the Delinquency Prevention Commission. Mission Girls was highlighted in “Latina” magazine as a sanctuary for Latina girls. I then went to work as the Director of Youth Services for Precita Center doing juvenile justice reform work. I co-founded the Juvenile Justice Providers Association and advocated for juvenile justice programming for youth in SF. I then moved to work for the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families as a Community Convener where I brought various communities together to address their community issues.
I work for the SFUSD as a Community School Coordinator at Everett Middle School. When I started at Everett it was one of the ten lowest performing schools in the state. Five years later the school is the most requested middle school in the district. All of my work has been around community building. The community school coordinator builds intentional communities between partners and the school in hopes of aligning our goals together as one in the same. This position works to break down silos within the school and to open communication between families and the school community. The work I do is amazing! Every day I work to provide teachers, community, and families the support they need to work to ensure every student is successful and thriving.
Discuss the community schools work that you’ve been involved with in your district:
I was hired under the School Improvement Grant. Community Schools was an adopted strategy that the SFUSD believes will address school failure. While on this first implementation team, we worked to put the framework into practice. We developed a rubric of what we believed to be the best practices for a community school and then during each meeting we worked as a professional learning team to develop new systems that would ensure students academic and social emotional needs were being met.
Margaret Brodkin led this visionary and groundbreaking work. During the time that she led the initiative, she was able to form strong relationships with community partners and various departments in the SFUSD to come together with the goals for student and school success.
What milestones have been reached?
During the time that we worked under the School Improvement grant we impacted the system as follows:
- SFUSD adopts community school model as best practice framework for school reform
- SFUSD supports community school model at all schools and embeds it into the school site plans
- SFUSD see significant gains in the low performing schools and works to sustain the model
- SFUSD partners with Mission Promise Neighborhood to keep Community School coordinators as leaders in school reform
What challenges have been faced?
The SFUSD supports community schools, but we still have the challenge of being an institution with different silos. The Wellness staff reports under one department, the family liaisons work under a different department, and the lead after school partners are under a different department as well. This creates a lot of miscommunication and we do not have a direct order that says we have to all work together to push the community school framework forward. The elements fall under different departments each with their own vision.
What lessons have been learned?
Once the district moves on to its next initiative, you need to be sure that the principal believes in the community school model and has strong relationships with community partners, parents, and the folks who make up the community school team.
How does your work intersect with other community schools initiatives locally or nationally? What is particular to your initiative alone?
For the SF Mission Promise Neighborhood initiative the current push is to help families be self-sufficient. Given the climate in the Bay Area it is important to address the families of our most vulnerable children and offer them the supports that they need to continue to support their students’ education. This is challenging with so many people being pushed out of SF. The housing crisis is at an all time high and families are paying rents that they cannot afford.
Anything that you’d like other community schools professionals to know? Other work you’ve found helpful that you’d like to recommend? Words of wisdom??
I think some of the best practices that we have implemented as a team are as follows:
- Shared vision for students success. School vision is shared with all stakeholders. (share standards and expectations)
- Community schools work to support families; it is a movement for social change that urges partners, parents and school staff to work together to improve the lives of the children and families ensuring they are getting what they need to be successful
- Attend grade level meetings and create an agenda that allows for family and community updates
- Create a system of communication for teachers to make it easy for teachers to log on and be able to call any student and see what services that student may be connected to
- Facilitate student study teams for ELL students to ensure that these families are connected to the services they need and that they are able to help their student be successful
- Promote a college going culture. This is a goal that partners, families, and teachers can all agree on. This brings the adults from different content areas to work together on a common goal
- Create a family engagement team that includes teachers, partners and support staff
- Help connect new staff to the school community and families
- Create systems that encourage parents to engage in their students’ academic progress – like Parent University
- Promote restorative practices to reduce suspension and build relationships
- Allow for community circles where classrooms can build community around various issues (college, current issues etc)
- Student voice and parent voice. Create systems in which data is collected used and shared to inform practice
- Create a community school advisory and work on evaluating your progress towards being a community school