The Best of Both Worlds: Teacher-Powered Meets Community Schools

By Jennie Carey Rosenbaum, Director of Development and Evaluation, LAEP

It’s hard to be new. Almost seven years ago, new to California, I found myself in a fiercely proud community that wondered who I was and what I thought I was doing at their high school. All I had going for me was the fact that at least I had taught (in a public school).

But, ultimately, I didn’t look like many of them, I didn’t sound like them, and even when I played by the rules, I felt like everyone was waiting for me to screw up instead of lending a helping hand. They thought I was just going to be another flavor of the month in education reform.

And I don’t blame them. I get it. It is hard not to be skeptical; LA is not an easy place. Here, it feels like education reform tosses us around, beats us up, and catches us in its complex web, not always seeing the faces and lives being impacted. Education reform feels left in the hands of those who have authority, not those like us who work through the rough, dirty, gangs, failing schools, crime, landfills, and gunshots of our community.

Education—my students, teachers, families, and partners—didn’t need leaders trying to solve problems for us. We needed leaders who would make everyone face the complexity of the problems.

That’s where the principles behind community schools and teacher-powered schools came in.  That’s where I came in. Today, seven years later, I am proud to have participated, alongside the best teacher leaders I know, on the design team for teacher-powered community school Social Justice Humanitas Academy in San Fernando.

On the design team I represented the community partner and served as the Community School Coordinator at SJHA for over four years. Per the request of the community, partners, and the schools, the Los Angeles Education Partnership (LAEP)—an education reform organization who helps high-poverty students in high-need schools improve their academic achievement by partnering with educators, parents, and the community—pursued and became a community schools “lead agency.”

As a lead agency, LAEP places a community school coordinator on a campus to help the school community identify barriers that prevent it from achieving its mission. The selection of a barrier–such as chronic absenteeism, drugs, or family engagement–drives  the work of the coordinator to build systems, collaborators, and resources at campuses that will provide academic and non-academic supports to break down barriers.

But LAEP is unique. With our core elements—high-quality instruction, teacher leadership and collaboration, college and career readiness, health and wellness, parents as partners, youth empowerment, and educational equity—LAEP is one of the few lead agencies who builds as much capacity around teacher leadership and instruction as it does around community partnerships and engagement.

As a result, many of LAEP’s partner schools are both teacher-powered and community schools. And, I’ve learned from the best of both worlds. I’ve learned teacher-powered schools are the perfect partner to helping community schools accomplish their goals. And, I’ve learned community schools can help teacher-powered schools use resources more strategically thanks to the dedicated expertise of coordinators and lead agencies.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that leadership isn’t defined by authority. And in fact, with or without authority, leadership isn’t about one person doing it all. In both teacher-powered and community schools, leadership is defined by creating a community of interdependence. Education and schools needs to stop looking for silver bullets and heroes. We just need each other.