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United Way leads accelerated expansion of community schools in City of Erie

Thursday Jul 8th, 2021

United Way, in partnership with Erie’s Public Schools (EPS), is pleased to announce the accelerated expansion of the community school initiative to five additional schools, including four elementary schools (Grover Cleveland, Joanna Connell, Jefferson and Lincoln) and Woodrow Wilson middle school.

This is made possible by a once-in-a-lifetime infusion of federal funding over a three-year period. With this expansion, every EPS elementary and middle school will be a community school. Once completed, all EPS students entering Erie High will have graduated from community schools!

The EPS 2018-2024 Strategic Plan, “Mobilizing Community, Igniting Excellence!” calls to “extend the community schools approach to all schools, by implementing the existing model district-wide and cultivating the mindset inherent in the model,” leading to student success.

What is ESSER funding? 

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding is an unprecedented one-time infusion of federal financial aid in response to COVID-19. Funds must be spent by September 2024 and within certain mandated parameters.

The majority of ESSER funding coming into EPS will finance much needed building improvements, with the remaining funds being directed to learning gap/loss, summer school and smaller class sizes in the elementary schools. Of the $90M going to EPS, 2.6% will be directed to the expansion of new community schools, led by United Way.

It’s important to note that the current eight established EPS community schools will continue to be funded through United Way and once the ESSER funding cycle ends in 2024, United Way will assume the fiscal responsibility for all community school director positions and other components of the model.

In order to support this fast-tracked ramp up of EPS community schools, United Way will need additional staffing during this three-year period. United Way, as the backbone organization for the intensively data-driven community school model, provides critical technical assistance, initiative management, strategic planning, partnership negotiation/execution and ongoing liaison services.

United Way is committed to developing permanent funding for the five new EPS community schools, in addition to the established eight, and will use the next three years to secure sustainable revenue streams with invested donors and corporate partners in our community.

United Way believes all students should have the opportunity to succeed in school, and therefore in life. This accelerated expansion of the community school model in the City of Erie will level the playing field for economically disadvantaged children, providing them the supports and resources to excel academically.

Achieving this will support Erie’s economic development, create an expanded workforce and provide a vibrant future for our most precious human capital.

What is a community school?

To directly address the root causes of generational poverty, United Way brought the community schools model to Erie County in 2016. When a traditional public school is transformed into a community school an entire culture shift takes place and resources are brought into the school building that address the specific barriers preventing low-income students from being successful. 

A community school becomes a hub, rich with resources for students and their families.  

Community schools are an equity strategy, leveling the playing field for economically disadvantaged students with their more affluent peers.

There are currently 10 community schools serving more than 6,000 students and their families throughout Erie County in the Girard School District, Iroquois School District and Erie’s Public Schools.