May 2022 – C/W CSTAC Community School Spotlight:
Using the Community School Strategy to Build Community
A spotlight on South Glen Falls School District (SCSD)
The South Glens Falls Central School District (SGFCSD) is located in the northern most point of Saratoga County in New York State. Serving approximately 3,000 students, the district is home to one senior high school, one middle school and four K-5 elementary schools.
Similar to other communities, students and their families have been hard hit by the pandemic. Even so, SGF District administrators Raymond Ruby, Community School Liaison, Flora Covey, District Director of Personnel Development and Janelle Sipowicz, District Director of Counseling/SEL see the community school model as a critical way for addressing students’ and families’ needs.
Prior to the pandemic, South Glen Falls CSD was actively focused on ensuring requisite services were available to the district’s students and families. However, Covey noted there was no centralized coordination. School administrators, educators, and frontline staff weren’t always aware of the service deliverables other schools in the district were offering. Now that the district is exploring the community school model, Covey notes, in order to meet specific needs, they are determining the right questions to ask and states, “With the community school strategy, we’re researching how to connect all of the dots and bring everything together in one place.”
Ruby, a former principal, assistant principal, curriculum coordinator, and educational technologist, came into his current position as SGF’s Community Liaison Specialist in August of last year. For Ruby, the pandemic shined a light not only on the things they knew they needed, but also the need for making strategic connections to bring everything together that community schools provide. He relates, “… if we didn’t have the pandemic, it would have been harder to get people to understand the viability of the community school model, because some of the needs students and families were struggling with weren’t immediately obvious.”
The impetus for South Glen Falls’ exploration began a few years back when they appointed their mental health task force. The care team, an arm of the task force, was responsible for identifying the organizations and services that were available in the South Glen Falls community. The best strategies for ensuring that families had viable access to services were also researched. Thus giving the South Glen Falls district team some leverage once COVID-19 hit.
Pictured L-R: Ray Ruby, Meara LeFevre. and Janelle Sipowicz
Even though the tight-knit community offers a variety of family support services, including mental and physical health, food, and clothing. Covey, Ruby, and Sipowicz recognized that the lack of access to these services for their students and families also had to be confronted. Addressing both challenges, the South Glens Falls team seeks to proactively partner with a variety of community service providers.
One service provider is RISE Housing and Support Services. Ruby states, “Our partnership with RISE is an example of what I’m learning by being in this new position. Previously, during my tenure as a principal, I’d connected with various organizations to address particular needs manifested by students and their families. However, I didn’t realize that these organizations could provide additional and/or other services.” By asking targeted questions, Ruby found out the RISE counseling staff were already working with approximately 35 SGF families and could support students outside of their regular caseloads. Thus, the team was able to alleviate the case burden that was being experienced by SGF’s social workers.
Another community partner that Ruby actively works with is Donna Nichols, Executive Director of The Moreau Community Center. The community center is a true centralizing community hub within South Glen Falls. Members of the SGF community find support through a variety of multi-generational support services, classes and activities. Adults, parents, and senior citizens can enjoy wellness programs, social & recreational activities, plus receive help with completing their tax returns. Children of preschool age, elementary, middle, and high school students enjoy coming to the MCC for its before- and after-school programs, and its 8-week summer camp.
In addition to its clothing and food pantries, a new program initiative, the Bulldog Zone, is also housed in the MCC. This program is the brainchild of three SGF senior high school students: Becca Dawson, Meara LeFevre and Vanessa Jorgensen, who wanted to create a safe place for middle and high school students to hang out, do homework, connect, and “just chill.” Ruby observed the Bulldog Zone could not have come into being without the collaboration of several community organizations including the SGF Community Coalition for Family Wellness, the Youth Coalition working with the MCC, and its supportive staff to make the high school students’ vision a reality.
Ruby, Covey, and Sipowicz’s ongoing research into the Community School model and its Four Pillars is already manifesting the efficacy of the CS strategy for strengthening the South Glen Falls community.