City Connects in Springfield: results and the importance of integrated student supports

We’re excited to share a new article in CommonWealth magazine that tells the story of how Springfield is using City Connects to help its school children thrive.

The article — “‘Wraparound’ services helping kids succeed: Expansion of City Connects program to Springfield” – was co-authored by Daniel J. Warwick, Superintendent of the Springfield Public Schools, and Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects.

“When Children walk into their schools,” the article begins, “they make everyone feel what they feel. Teachers, principals, even superintendents can all feel the burdens students carry, especially those who struggle with poverty and despair. Some children talk about their challenges. Others don’t. Either way, educators and administrators feel the weight of the hunger, homelessness, mental health challenges, incarceration of parents, and other hardships that many children bear. We have to feel it, because being connected to children is the only way that we can successfully do our jobs.

“Feeling, of course, isn’t enough, which is why Springfield school officials have spent years trying to overcome the barriers that children face outside school so that they can thrive in school, build strong social and emotional skills, and do better on statewide tests like the MCAS and PARCC exams.”

City Connects launched in five Springfield schools in 2011, “using funding from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Wraparound Zones Initiative.”

City Connects coordinators have done whole class reviews and worked with existing community partners to provide children with services and enrichment.

Teachers and principals praised the program and its results, including improved academic outcomes, better classroom behavior, and a stronger school climate.

The research results?

“A rigorous study found that after three years of implementing City Connects in previously underperforming schools, there was no longer a significant gap in test scores between students in those schools and students in the rest of the district. Two of Springfield’s City Connects schools have moved up to become Level 1 schools, the highest rank in the state education department’s accountability system. The other three schools in the study have moved up to Level 3.”

Springfield did make one important adjustment.

“… initially, we had high turnover among our site coordinators. The job’s pay and benefits weren’t strong enough to retain people. So when the Wraparound Zone funding ran out, we put the site coordinators into our school budget – and we unionized these jobs. That has enabled us to attract and retain higher-quality staff members.”

Warwick and Walsh say that the next step is to help more children.

“We need to make this kind of investment in more of our schools. Districts need sufficient funding to provide integrated, comprehensive support for kids that capitalizes on existing resources. We hope this will be a priority for Gov. Baker and the Legislature as they negotiate the state budget — and as the state education department and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education implement new criteria for school accountability.”

“As one principal in a Springfield City Connects school said, children were falling through the cracks because help that already exists was beyond their reach. We’ll all be better off if we can catch those kids and connect them to what they need, so that we can prepare them — and the Commonwealth — for brighter futures.”

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