TUPMAN, Calif. — Leaders representing the education, nonprofit, government, and healthcare sectors in Wayne and Seneca County, New York are visiting rural West Kern school districts today to learn about a highly-successful, six-district Community Schools Consortium. Community Schools deploy an evidence-based strategy to advance equity and reduce barriers to learning by providing the services needed to support student and family well-being. Through trusting relationships and well-coordinated supports, community schools ensure that students receive the health, social service, and learning opportunities they need to be successful.
Like what has been taking place in West Kern, the New York representatives have been organizing one of few rural, community school consortia in the United States. They are eager to build a cross-county partnership with Kern and learn about the best practices that led to West Kern’s high academic growth during the pandemic and about how students, families, and community partners have come together for whole-child, whole-family supports.
“We were so impressed to learn how Kern’s small, rural community schools are improving behavioral, health, and academic outcomes for students. We want to initiate a longstanding learning exchange with our new friends in Kern,” Jay Roscup, Community Schools Director, Sodus Central School District.
The West Kern Community School Consortium has found success by pooling resources. Leveraging economies of scale, the six participating districts can hire and share essential staff and pay for services to meet five key priorities, including:
Early childhood education
Mathematics and literacy instruction
Expanded learning programs
Family and community engagement
Health and social services
The first stop on the visit will be to Elk Hills Elementary in Tupman, Calif. From 8:15 am - 9:30 am, one group of leaders will visit classrooms while the other simultaneously engages in a community roundtable with social workers, community school coordinators, and other community partners around behavioral health needs.
“We have social workers, a nurse, instructional coaches, and county partners on campus regularly. This was unheard of prior to our community schools partnership” said Tiffany Touchstone, Elk Hills School District Superintendent/Principal.
About the West Kern Consortium (WKC) for Community Schools
WKC was formed by three anchor districts in 2018, just before the pandemic. Despite all odds, the community school model helped these districts through tough COVID years and contributed to top mathematics growth in Kern County. Since that time, the Consortium has grown to six school districts: The Lost Hills Union Elementary School District (LHUESD), Semitropic Elementary School District (SESD), Maple Elementary School District (MESD), Elk Hills Elementary School District (EHSD), Taft Union High School District (TUHSD), and Wasco Union High School District (WUHSD). This year, California has made significant investments in the community school model.
WKC impacts 3,991 preK-12 students in nine community schools and approximately 2,400 households. With millions in private, state, and federal funding, the WKC has organized five key areas: (1) early childhood education; (2) expanded learning; (3) math and literacy instruction; (4) family and community engagement; and (5) social and health services. Each of the pipelines has a number of activities including wraparound supports, mathematics coaching for educators, expanding school social work, introducing school nurses, expanding parent literacy programs, providing STEAM expanded learning programs, and enhancing collaboration to reduce community violence. Partnerships with Harvard University’s By All Means initiative, a local improvement intermediary and a nationally recognized external evaluator, serve to improve services.
West Kern is a rural, farm and oil community with historically bleak education and health outcomes. 91% of students qualify for free-reduced price meals, 21% are English Learners, and nearly 78% are Latinx. Suspensions and chronic absence rates are high and math and English Language Arts proficiency rates are some of the lowest in the county, but have made significant improvements in recent years.
In collaboration with nearly 20 community partners via the Children’s Cabinet of West Kern, the WKC works on the following key outcomes: 5% annual increases in mathematics proficiency; 3% annual decreases in chronic absenteeism; and improvement on 33 other student performance, school climate, and community-collaboration measures.