Community Engagement Fosters Academic Results

The idea behind the work is simple, explains Kristen Denison, the Chief Advancement & External Affairs Officer for LEARN Charter School Network – “Do the ordinary extraordinarily well.” This approach has served all 10 LEARN Network schools throughout the Chicago area well, benefiting their communities and earning accolades along the way.

“It was a particularly proud moment,” Denison modestly offered when asked about being featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010 and receiving a  $1 million donation from the Oprah Winfrey Angel Network.

The network garnered this praise for its success in serving students in Oprah’s hometown. Recognizing and addressing the unique needs of each community that a school serves is LEARN’s goal—and a key to its success.

LEARN Network schools start with a clear definition of the school community—typically that a strong school community and community partnerships can serve students more effectively. With a common understanding, it’s easier to get staff, families, and partners on board.

Members of the central LEARN Network staff look to school leaders and families to set school operations that work best for them, from hours of operation to the best day and times for meetings. This can range from hosting “Coffee with the Principal” events for parents before school to accommodate those who work a standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, to always providing childcare so that parents can easily attend post-work events at the school.

The LEARN Network also looks for ways to bring community partners into the school. The YMCA is given space in one building that serves three learn campuses to run a before and afterschool program. This is a win-win setup: YMCA staff have space in the school building and staff the program; students don’t need transportation to access afterschool programs; and parents can pick up their children at the same place they drop them off—making their lives a little easier.

Parents and families are welcomed into the school. At two LEARN campuses, the school community is about one-third students from military families. Enlisted members of the Navy, those with and without students enrolled at the school, provide volunteer services to the school community. At another campus with a high population of English learners, parents serve as liaisons between the school and broader community, including help with translation services.

The outlook of serving the whole community’s needs is paying off. On the 2016 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam, every LEARN Chicago campus outperformed its neighborhood comparison school (public schools within one mile of a LEARN campus). Additionally, LEARN Chicago schools outperformed Chicago Public Schools and the State in each subgroup (Black, Hispanic, Low-Income, and English Language Learners).

To continue this success, LEARN Network plans to open more schools in the coming years.



All images credit: LEARN Charter School Network