A Hawthorne Elementary School student traces a heart on the wall in the Hawthorne Tunnel, which had a mural dedicated in 2019.

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National, state and local officials gathered at Madison’s Hawthorne Elementary School Tuesday morning to discuss and advocate for community schools.

National Education Association president Becky Pringle, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, State Superintendent Jill Underly, Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent Carlton Jenkins, Madison Teachers Inc. president Michael Jones and others held a discussion for half an hour in the Hawthorne gymnasium.

The discussion was closed to the press, but Pringle, Jones and Jenkins spoke to the media after the event.

“We are looking at using Hawthorne as an example to help us transform our schools all over the country,” Pringle said. “We believe every school should be a community school because it talks about the whole student, serving the needs of faculty meeting those needs, mining the assets of the communities so that when we say ‘every student will succeed,’ we actually mean every student will succeed.”

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The district began its community schools program in 2016-17 at Leopold and Mendota elementary schools and expanded to Lake View and Hawthorne in 2018-19. The schools, which are staffed with a community schools resource coordinator position, ask parents, students and neighborhood residents to help identify issues and solve them.

MMSD’s website defines the schools as “a welcoming and inclusive place that builds on the assets of the community to help serve the identified needs of the students, families and community through well integrated and coordinated, strategic partnerships.”

A $300,000 grant from the Madison Community Foundation allowed the district to explore the community schools idea initially, and MCF later awarded a $1.1 million challenge grant to the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools, with FMPS required to raise a matching amount of money by the Dec. 31, 2023, end of the grant period. The grant provides $220,000 each year toward the community schools program.

District officials discussed an expansion to the program in early 2020 for the 2021-22 school year, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted education in a variety of ways. Jones said he’d like to see the program expand throughout the district in the future.

“A true community school reaches what our education system has in terms of its highest ideals, which is everyone feeling safe and learning and growing as human beings so that we can get out of some of these messes that both our current and previous generations have kind of dug us,” Jones said.

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He said the schools don’t “just look at the kid as a test score,” or evaluate teachers or parents on their students’ or child’s test scores.

“(It) actually looks at everyone involved in this as a human being, and figuring out what do you need,” he said. “Do you need health care? We're going to work on the health care. You need dental care? We'll work on the dental care. You need mental health supports? We're going to work on the mental health support.”

MMSD, MTI and NEA have partnered in recent summers to hold a "Building Powerful and Transformational Community Schools" summer institute for staff members to discuss and collaborate on ideas related to the model.

“No one person or one group or no one entity is going to solve the problems that we're confronting,” Jones said. “We're going to need everyone there and in our meeting today we discussed a lot of that, not just at Hawthorne but within MMSD and within our state.”

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