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David Hornbeck  

Founder of Strong Schools Maryland

Working with school systems around the country, including as Maryland State Superintendent of Schools for more than a decade as well as six years as Philadelphia’s superintendent, David Hornbeck has a good understanding of the strengths and challenges facing public school children, their families and the schools trying to serve them.

But in between the bookends of his high-ranking administrative career, Hornbeck devoted time to grassroots work in various communities from East Harlem to the western regions of Nigeria.

“Being exposed to a variety of new experiences led me to focus on issues of justice as a core value,” Hornbeck says. “And it became clear over the years that student academic success depends on a lot more than having a good curriculum, sound facilities or even a good teacher. There are also important influences on a child’s life that lie outside the classrooms.”

Those experiences and that realization led Hornbeck to the idea behind his OSI-Baltimore fellowship, the Community Schools Development Program. The project will work with many of the city’s “Community Resource Schools,” which bring together a variety of community partners to provide social services and programming to students and families that supplement and enhance traditional academics. Some of those amenities include health services, youth development activities, parent and community engagement and after school and summer instruction and enrichment.

Hornbeck plans to begin working with up to ten of those schools this year, expanding to 20 by the fall of next year.

His work will focus on two aspects of improving community schools.

First, Hornbeck will help increase and improve the services the schools provide to students and families, and then strengthen the connections between the schools and their communities.

“Too often, community schools tend to operate in a kind of an opportunistic way,” he says. “They say, ‘Hey, there’s a church down the street or a social services agency nearby or a guy I met who has an interest in kids and wants to volunteer.’ And so they become a part of the school’s partnerships, often in an ad hoc way. One of the premises of this effort is that we’re not going to be able to move this idea to scale unless it becomes a whole lot more strategic and a whole lot less ad hoc.”

Secondly, Hornbeck would like to establish an effective way to document and communicate the schools’ successes to key leaders and stakeholders.

“It is my belief and my own experience–and it’s supported by research–that community schools connect very directly with children and family success in terms of their overall well-being and in terms of academic success,” Hornbeck says. “But it’s not just about producing results. An important feature of this project needs to be sending the right message to the wider public, and particularly to policy and budget makers, that this works and should be normative in city schools.”

Hornbeck’s project will “create an organized advocacy base in and around each school that is equipped to send out a substantive message about community schools.”

Hornbeck already has enlisted several partners–such as the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation and the city schools’ Office of Community Engagement–that have agreed to participate. He will be bringing on more throughout the course of the fellowship.

At the end of the day, Hornbeck says, he’s learned that it is the schools and partners working together that will ultimately bring about the long-term results that community schools advocates know are possible.

His efforts will help pull the pieces together to make the case for community school concepts being an essential feature of public schools throughout the city.

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