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Communities in Schools

State Rep. Ken King learns about Communities In Schools

When state legislators convene in January, public school funding will be one of their top priorities. As State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) is quick to point out, funding public education is the only constitutional duty of the Texas Legislature.

 Although Gov. Greg Abbott has forewarned state agencies to begin looking at cutting budgets by about 4 percent over the next biennium, King assured local and area school officials that he would “watch out” for the innovative Communities in Schools program.

That pledge was made Wednesday while the District 88 representative visited Estacado Middle School to learn about the program for at-risk students as it has been implemented in Plainview ISD and nearby Dimmitt ISD.

Estacado Principal Ritchie Thornton, in explaining the CIS program, noted, “It connects and engages those students who might not otherwise be engaged.”

In the past, Plainview ISD utilized both the traditional program which met with students during school as well as the ACE program which provides activities before and after school. The grant for the traditional program has since expired and was not renewed, but the ACE is now in the first of a multi-year funding cycle. It serves 173 students at Estacado and 160 at Thunderbird.

Dimmitt ISD has both the traditional and ACE programs. It was able to leverage available grant funds by picking up a larger funding share locally. “We saw it making such a large difference for Dimmitt that we decided to do whatever it took to keep it going,” explains Dimmitt ISD Superintendent Bryan Davis. Dimmitt uses both traditional and after school programs on the elementary, junior high and high school level. “It’s a great thing for us with activities ranging from peer tutoring to college readiness for both juniors and seniors.”

During a recent FASFA information program, Dimmitt school officials initially planned to use a single room but had to expand to three rooms due to the large turnout. “We have been able to take these kids on trips for mentoring with different businesses, and we have seen a tremendous improvement on issues ranging from academics to behavior.”

Staff members working with the CIS program are able to make home visits as well as work with students in classroom settings with an aim at reducing the dropout rate while keeping at-risk and Title I students more engaged in the educational process.

King admitted that the program appears to be helping level the playing field between rural and urban school districts, which is one of his primary goals. “I’m certainly going to watch this program, and I agree that we all should be advocating for more programs like this which are making a difference for our kids. It makes no sense to cut local programs that are keeping kids engaged and encouraging them to stay in school.”

King represents rural school districts in the 17 counties included in District 88.

According to Lubbock-based CIS of the South Plains, which oversees CIS programs in this region, the CIS site coordinator works with volunteers, partners and the local community to provide students with the resources they need to succeed both inside and outside the classroom. CIS is cost-effective – for less than $200 annually per student, CIS is able to provide a comprehensive range of community services.

Concerning the dropout problem, CIS explains that troubled students and their families often have a hard time accessing and navigating through the maze of public and private services. Through a school-based coordinator, CIS brings local resources inside the public school setting, where they are accessible, coordinated and accountable.

The program’s five basic tenants are that each child needs and deserves:

--A personal one-on-one relationship with a caring adult

--A safe place to learn and grow

--A chance to give back to peers and community

--A marketable skill to use upon graduation

--A healthy start and a healthy future.

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