Following trustees’ general expressions of support for the proposed student and family resource centers funded in the district’s 2020 Bond election, Chief of Staff Pam Lear and Racial Equity Deputy Chief Sharon Quinn are spearheading a planning team to move the project forward. The concept calls for the creation of community hubs to house crucial social services in neighborhoods served by Lincoln, L.G. Pinkston, H. Grady Spruce and Franklin Roosevelt high schools. The $40M in bond funds allocated for the project is limited to facility construction to create space for services to these historically underserved communities. Lear recently announced that the center to serve the Lincoln community will be the first to be opened; tentative plans call for it to be housed at J.J. Rhoads Elementary School on Second Avenue.
As the planning team deliberates the physical layout of the facilities and services the centers might house, the group is basing its work on a review of the economic and social conditions in the four communities. Via focus groups, interviews, surveys and community workshops, residents in the target areas have identified needed services ranging from mental and physical health care, youth recreation programs and job training to housing assistance, legal services and access to healthy food.
SUPPORTING DATA: Among the tools guiding the planning are the Community Resource Index (CRI), the Intensity of Poverty Index (IPI), and data on campus utilization and the condition of facilities as well as the history of segregation and redlining in the target communities. The CRI is a broad set of data reflecting the economic and social health of communities across the city based on measurements of residents’ median household income and levels of education, the presence of resources like grocery stores and health facilities, etc. The IPI is a measure of poverty that generates census-block data based on similar factors, including owner-occupied homes and the number of families headed by single parents.
Viewed through the lenses of either index, the four target communities reflect a grim picture of how historic inequities such as redlining and lack of investment due to systemic racism plague residents to this day.
For example, in West Dallas, data show that 25% fewer residents are covered by health insurance than in more well-resourced communities, and the median family income of $21,918 is well below the $81,300 found in more affluent communities.
Echoing the data, in community meetings held over a nine-month span, residents frequently cited trauma related to untreated mental health challenges, lack of decent, affordable housing and a shortage of quality parks and youth recreation programs. Given these concerns and data reflecting their impact on student achievement, Lear and the team feel there is strong justification for the district to move forward with plans to build the centers and work with city, county and nonprofit sectors to staff them with resources.
THE CHARGE: As to why the district should take on what is definitely a heavy lift—at a recent meeting of the planning team, Lear shared a statement from the document created to launch the work. As with many other education-related services the district offers, she said the Dallas ISD is leading the charge to create the centers for the well-being of students.
“Covid-19 has laid bare how important the local school is for students and their families. School staffs have not only provided learning opportunities, but also regular meals, counseling on where to access testing, how to apply for rental assistance and social-emotional support to weather the storm. Schools are trusted institutions for families and go-to places for far more than just education.”
The report cites areas where the health of neighborhoods heavily impacts student achievement, including substandard housing, excessive mobility, and families that are burdened by housing expenses. Likewise, food deserts and the lack of affordable, healthy food negatively affect students and contribute to tardiness, poor school attendance and decreased ability to focus on schoolwork. In the area of healthcare, vision and oral health problems, asthma, obesity and chronic stress compounded by substance abuse are serious obstacles to academic achievement and upward economic mobility. The consensus of the report is that poverty in all its guises is detrimental to student achievement, and the resource centers are one means of attacking these problems at their root.
NEXT STEPS: In their Jan. 14 presentation to trustees and the superintendent, Lear and Quinn committed to create a planning team and begin to flesh out the plan to create the centers and make regular reports of progress.
A dozen representatives, including staff of the nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab, and district employees have been assigned to the resource center planning team, with the following assignments:
Community Engagement – Establish a steering committee for each identified neighborhood and work with parents and community to refine the program once sites are selected and encourage public engagement throughout the design process; solicit interest of community-based providers and assess their capacity for service delivery.
Facilities Planning & Design – Select sites for centers by assessing assets and capacity potential; refine programs based on data, site constraints, local codes and community input; initiate design, select design partners and begin design.
Partnerships and Programming – Share data with public agencies and brainstorm how agencies might address identified needs; establish a team to manage the design and implementation of the resource centers; develop an operational model based on funding, partnerships, etc.
For guidance, the project team is looking at two similar centers created by school districts in Houston and Los Angeles. There they may find lessons learned and useful information. However, it appears that Dallas ISD is pursuing a far more ambitious effort in terms of the number of centers and the potential variety of services.