Johnson: Help Communities in Schools continue good work

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Just before Christmas, we received three checks from Clarke County school teachers donating to Family Connection-Communities In Schools. While hardly unique, why — with no pay raises in years, and with actual pay cuts due to furloughs forced by state funding cuts — would teachers donate to our work? Here are a few possible reasons:

  • Mario wasn’t attending classes and was extremely unlikely to graduate. Leo Cotlar, our site coordinator at the high school, connected with Mario and discovered that he was working two part-time jobs three school nights each week, one from 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., the other from midnight to 5 a.m. Cotlar helped Mario get a variety of support that allowed him both to keep the jobs (which his family needed) and to graduate from high school in July.

    “His parents were the proudest couple I’ve ever seen,” Cotlar said.

  • Susie failed all her core classes in sixth grade and clearly was headed toward dropping out. Lindsey Cavin, our site coordinator at Susie’s school, met with her and her mother, learned about the multiple challenges Susie faced outside of school and brought together wrap-around services to address those issues. Cavin continued to meet with Susie and her mother regularly, and to do more. Susie’s attendance, attitude and grades in every subject improved.

    “She will graduate from high school,” Cavin says.

  • Thanks to Early Head Start and the pre-kindergarten programs that we brought to the Clarke County School District, Lakisha entered kindergarten ready to learn, despite major challenges at home. University of Georgia research shows that those programs improve academic performance through high school.

Through our Neighborhood Leaders, parents in neighborhoods that previously had little involvement are taking leadership roles for their children and their neighbors’ children, engaging in authentic partnership for improved schools, health, safety and community involvement. Among much else, they have coordinated distribution of computers to nearly 1,000 families this year.

Thousands of children and youth in our community have better opportunities through more than 40 programs we have initiated with our partners.

Our work has received national recognition, not just anecdotally (the White House included a story about one of our Neighborhood Leaders in a recent report), but because the data reflect remarkable gains by our partners, including a 67 percent reduction in teen pregnancy, an 88 percent reduction in substantiated child abuse and neglect, continuing improvement in graduation rates, and the largest reduction in the achievement gap of any school district in Georgia.

These data represent incalculable improvements in the lives of precious children who are not being abused, who are doing well in school, who will be successful in life and who will improve the quality of life for us all. As Clarke County Schools Superintendent Philip Lanoue puts it, “Every data point has a face.”

A recent study by a state consultant concluded that we have the greatest return on investment of any of 157 partnerships for children they reviewed. These gains are the result of the enormous support of all of our collaborative partners — the school district, the individual schools, UGA, business partners, health and social service providers, the faith community, hundreds of individuals and, most importantly, the families of the children.

Despite all this success, our financial resources for the collaboration itself have been depleted. We have always been a shoestring operation, but we now face major budget challenges that threaten our current work. Most significantly, we will lose our Communities In Schools site coordinator positions, a model that a national study concluded is the most effective dropout prevention program ever scientifically evaluated.

Our partners, our donors and the community as a whole have created and supported our success and commitment to the children and youth of Athens.

I am writing this to request that you join the teachers and others who provide financial support at this critical time in our work.

We have enormous opportunity to take some pretty amazing work to an even higher level. We face the danger, however, of losing the momentum if we are unable to foster the resources required.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “If you care for your own children, you must take an interest in all, for your children must go on living in the world made by all children.” Please consider a tax-deductible donation, payable to FC-CIS, at P.O. Box 1904, Athens, GA 30603.

I can think of no more important investment for our community.

Tim Johnson is executive director of Family Connection-Communities In Schools, also known as Whatever It Takes, facilitating community collaboration for the success of all children in Athens.

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Georgia Family Connection is a statewide network with a Collaborative in all 159 counties.