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Heads Above the Rest

Charissa Fernandez

People continue to be skeptical about the capacity of community-based organizations—lead partners in our ExpandED Schools—to contribute to academic gains in struggling schools. But after visiting a school like PS 186, it's hard for me to imagine they're not making a difference.

There's no doubt that NIA Community Services Network (NIA), an organization with deep roots in the Bensonhurst community where the school is located, makes it possible for all second and third graders to participate in daily, personalized, small group instruction. (In a school with 950 students and 17 languages, having a couple of hours of a day when kids are in groups of 10 or less seems more like a necessity than a luxury.) But what struck me even more was the commitment to and level of collaboration I witnessed among the leaders—school and community—of 186.

They're not paying lip service to a shared vision, they're living it. Ever since they decided to work together to expand learning, joint hiring and professional development, team teaching, aligned curriculum, common assessment strategies, and data-sharing are the new normal. The principal and APs are singular in their focus on helping their students succeed, but they're not doing it alone. NIA's leaders are right there with them.

This is the first school I've ever known to have a giraffe as their mascot, but it seems fitting: they're definitely stretching to be "heads above the rest."

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