Posted Date: 12/13/2022
Community Schools is a philosophy – not a program – at Union Public Schools, Union Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler told guests this morning during a tour of the district.
Programs come and go but the Community Schools philosophy is systemic and serves as a guide to help Union achieve its mission of 100 percent college and career graduation.
For nearly 20 years, Union has been at the forefront of the Community Schools philosophy and is recognized as a national model of how schools work with families, community partners and educators to help students be successful.
Hartzler and other Union representatives spoke about Union’s Community Schools initiative today at Ellen Ochoa Community Schools before special guests from the Oklahoma Education Association, Putnam City Schools and Oklahoma State House Representatives Ronny Johns, John Talley, John Waldron, Jacob Rosecrants and Mark Vancuren.
After opening remarks from Dr. Hartzler, Assistant Superintendent Sandi Calvin spoke about how Union has embedded Community Schools into the district’s strategic plan. Executive Director of Elementary Education Theresa Kiger, who helped launch the initiative when she was a principal at Roy Clark Elementary, talked about how the pilot started and how it is working today at Union.
District Community School Liaison Kulsum Siddiqui echoed their remarks, noting how each school’s Community Schools effort is tailored to their own school after much thought and communication with families and partners close to each school. What works for one school is not the same approach at another.
Roy Clark Community Schools Coordinator Sara Fitch provided guests with a glimpse into the role of a Community Schools coordinator, stressing the importance of building relationships with people. Again, each coordinator and each school is different, she said, and sometimes that means working after hours or even attending a local church on Sunday to talk about the program. But, Fitch said, “I have the best job in the world. I love what I do.”
After the presentation, guests enjoyed a tour of Ellen Ochoa Elementary before moving to Union High School to learn about Union’s Hope-Guidance-Social and Emotional Learning program, its counseling services and the College and Career Center.
Union has received a lot of attention for its Community Schools approach and its ability to achieve a 90 percent graduation rate despite a dramatic increase in poverty rates over the past two decades. Union educators say that their success is due in no small part on the dedication of staff, engagement from families and the support of community partners, including financial support.
Union is featured in a new book by well-known “New York Times” writer, David Kirp called “Disrupting Disruption: The Steady Work of Transforming Schools.”
A recent article by the “Washington Post,” stated “In ‘Disrupting Disruption,’ the co-authors shine a light on three racially and ethnically diverse school systems: Roanoke, nestled in Virginia’s Shenandoah mountains; Union, Okla., Tulsa’s neighbor; and Union City, N.J., across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Their students don’t resemble those in highflying places like Wilmette, Ill., or Lexington, Mass., predominantly white and well-off, with their off-the-charts test scores and graduation rates, and they do not appear on any list of the nation’s highest-performing districts. But they look like much of America, where white students don’t constitute a majority, and many come from low-income families.”
Thanks to the national buzz and the success stories coming out of Union, other Oklahoma state educators, school districts and legislators have been visiting Union to learn more about the community Schools initiative with hopes of replicating success stories across the state.