Richard Washington already spends much of his time at James Logan Elementary School in North Philadelphia.
The 43-year-old community organizer helps run youth basketball, chess club, and choir, and he volunteers in the cafeteria, at recess, and as a crossing guard.
Now he'll go from part-time volunteer to full-time employee. Logan is one of nine schools selected to adopt a Community School model, and Washington will coordinate its transition.
"Logan's kind of a hidden secret. We're a small school and it's because of support from the community . . . that we find ways to get the resources the district has not been able to provide with budget cuts," Washington said. "Now I get to expand upon that. One of the things that's most exciting is the opportunity to build more partnerships with La Salle, Einstein, some of the local businesses."
The community school concept is to integrate social, health, family support, and other services into schools. The coordinators are the heartbeat of the city's plan. They are paid an average $50,000 to $60,000 a year by the city and tasked with determining what the community could benefit from and finding partners to make it happen.
Mayor Kenney hopes to expand from these first nine to 25 community schools in the next four years. In the first year, the city will spend $4 million on the initiative - most of it going to salaries for the coordinators.
Last week, Washington attended a two-week boot camp with the 17 other new community school coordinators. The group toured soon-to-be community schools and met with staff from the Departments of Health and Human Services and nonprofits, with whom they may aim to form partnerships.
The coordinators toured Tilden Elementary in Southwest Philadelphia. The school was selected partly because its principal, Brian Johnson, has already launched community initiatives there.
Tilden has its own food pantry, parent-resource room, and a washer and dryer should a student come in with soiled clothes or parents need access to a laundry room.
"Everything we've been doing has been on such a small scale," Johnson said. "Our food pantry, it's nice, but it's small. Our parent-resource room, it's been a gym, it's a job-training area, and it's only one space, so our goal for this work is to coordinate efforts so instead of impacting two, three, four people, we're impacting 20, 30, 400 people."
Finding community partners can be a challenge in Southwest Philadelphia, which has some of the highest violence and poverty rates in the city.
"There's no big college here," Johnson told the group. "Folks from UPenn don't come this way to tutor, it's too far. Our kids look out the window and see Center City in the distance. It looks like Oz. Many of their families have never been to Center City, so there's a lot of work to do."
Visit from the Sixers
The school's new community coordinator, Regina Young, is a Connecticut transplant who has lived in the city 17 years. She lives in Southwest and recently helped the school bring in the 76ers for a service project. Students arriving for their first day will receive hats, water bottles, and free tickets to a game.
Young, like many of the coordinators, has a background in social services and sees an opportunity for more partnership between the city's child-welfare agency and schools like Tilden, which has many students living in foster homes. She also wants to engage people and businesses in the neighborhood.
"People will want to be more involved if they understand everyone has value," Young said. "I'm already seeing people reinvested into giving back, so this is also about instilling a sense of hope and pride."
In addition to the individual school coordinators, the city hired three health-specific coordinators to focus on nutrition, obesity, diabetes, water, and physical activity in partnership with the city Health Department.
Susan Gobreski, the city's director of the Community Schools program, said the coordinators' first task is to assess what parents, students, and teachers think the school could benefit from and then survey available opportunities.
Then comes a determination of what can work in a school setting where safety remains paramount, she said.
"The very notion of a community school is, it's a school functioning as more than a school. It's a community asset and a community opportunity," she said. "So we're going to be looking for what's needed. What's a priority that can be delivered at that school in a safe way?"