The adage “it takes a village” is the motto of Whole Child Strategies, which supports the Klondike Smokey City village by mobilizing a cross-section of community members to tackle children’s barriers to education.
The three schools in Klondike Smokey City’s cluster are Shelby County Schools’ Manassas High and Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary and Humes Preparatory Middle School, which are led by the state-run Achievement School District.
Klondike and Smokey City, which are among the oldest neighborhoods in North Memphis, have faced a gauntlet of recent changes to the education landscape. Shelby County Schools shuttered Northside High School in the 2016 to 2017 school year. During the same period, Gestalt Community Schools ceased operating Humes Preparatory Academy Middle and Klondike Preparatory Academy Elementary, citing low enrollment.
Related: "North Memphis asks where their children will learn as schools shutter"
October 26, neighborhood residents, school leaders and parents gathered at Dave Wells Community Center to discuss obstacles that affect school attendance, such as transportation, bullying, housing issues and parents’ work schedules.
They also discussed factors that contribute to students being expelled or suspended, such as mental health issues or trauma, gang activity, social media and the need for caring adults in their lives.
A view of Northside High School in Klondike, which closed in 2016. (Andrea Morales)
Leading the discussion is Whole Child Strategies, a newly-formed Memphis organization with the mission to build a strong foundation for children’s futures in their neighborhoods.
According to education researcher Robert Balfanz, three factors decrease students’ likelihood of graduating from high school: suspension, failing courses, and chronic absenteeism.
While schools can take the lead on improving disciplinary outcomes to reduce suspension and expulsion, neighborhoods are responsible for ensuring children get to school.
According to Whole Child Strategies, only 20 percent of test scores are the result of factors in schools, while 60 percent of changes in test scores are the impacted by factors beyond the school walls. The remainder are issues related to teachers or unidentified causes, according to the organization.
“We’ve made so many investments in what happens in the classroom with teacher training and development, curriculum, structures, but these changes don’t have the reach they could possibly have because there are so many out-of-school factors that impact a child’s ability to show up at school, ready to learn,” said Rychetta Watkins, Operations Consultant for Whole Child Strategies.
Whole Child Strategies’ overarching approach is coming together in the form of a pilot neighborhood council. It would consist of representatives from schools, neighborhood stakeholders, faith-based leaders, business and community organizational leaders, parents and students, who would be responsible for identifying the needs of the Klondike Smokey City community and developing a plan to address those needs.
Neighborhood-level governance can help tackle those issues and improve those outcomes in numerous ways. They can advocate for community needs and stay informed about the impact of chronic absenteeism on student achievement. They can encourage children to be in school and assist families who struggle in getting their children to school.
Whole Child Strategies brought together neighborhood residents, school leaders and parents at Dave Wells Community Center in Klondike Smokey City to discuss ways to tackle barriers to children's education. (Aisling Maki)
“We’re looking for more parental involvement because this council is going to be based on what the parents want, what the community wants,” said Connie Booker of the Klondike Smokey City CDC. “A lot of times we build organizations and councils and we have the wrong people at the table.”
Klondike Smokey City stakeholders will ultimately custom design the neighborhood council model that best suits them.
The neighborhood council will also work with Whole Child Strategies’ community partners, which include nearly a dozen Memphis organizations, including Seeding Success, Family Safety Center, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Shelby County Schools, and Klondike Smokey City CDC.
“Whole Child was developed to try to coordinate the organizations and empower the community to be able to deal with out-of-school factors,” Watkins said. “Really this is Klondike Smokey City coming together through the Klondike Smokey City CDC, and whole child saying ‘you’re already doing great work in the community. What would help you be able to extend your reach?’”
Whole Child Strategies’ neighborhood vision is that of a stable, empowered and unified community -- clean, safe and free of blight, where families are able to provide for their children and children are thriving in school because they have the community support they need.
The next Klondike Smokey City Neighborhood Council meeting, at which time stakeholders will elect council members, will take place November 30 at Dave Wells Community Center.