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Schools Can’t do This Alone

Hillary Clinton said “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Education reformer Jamie Vollmer says “schools can’t do this alone.”

Our community agrees. We contribute to the health of our children and their families by investing in the Kent School Services Network.

Recently we were reminded of the importance of that investment when KSSN supporters, schools and partner agencies joined together at the Crossroads Bible Church in downtown Grand Rapids to celebrate their contributions to the health and welfare of children.

The Crossroads Bible Church was a fitting venue for hundreds of people to celebrate the overwhelming success of KSSN, a nine-year-old venture that has grown from eight schools in three school districts to 30 schools in eight districts and Kent ISD.

Kent School Services Network brings a community school coordinator, a clinical therapist, a Department of Health and Human Services family support worker and, in many venues, a nurse to school buildings. They form a circle of support for children and families. The research shows attendance and achievement go up and student disciplinary issues go down in virtually every building where KSSN is deployed.

Families and their children are helped in a variety of ways, like the mother whose two children were at a KSSN school last year. Because of a troubled pregnancy, her working hours as a nurse were cut in half. The sole supporter of her family as a result of her husband’s health problems, she was soon dealing with a mountain of bills and an eviction notice.

The KSSN community school coordinator at that school found a community organization willing to help with her bills and a landlord committed to the health of the neighborhood who would give her a second chance. The family was stabilized, her children stayed in the same school, and they’re thriving as a result of the support provided by KSSN.
From homeless to thriving.

It takes a village. Schools can’t do this alone.

KSSN assistance allows teachers to teach and principals to lead. Alpine Elementary Principal Jason Snyder in the Kenowa Hills district estimates KSSN gives him an extra 10 hours a week to lead his staff, because he no longer needs to spend that time responding to family needs and tracking down services for children.

It was fitting the celebration was held at a place of worship called Crossroads. KSSN is at something of a crossroads. The need is overwhelming. Districts and building principals are lining up to become a part of this remarkable network of care, but the resources aren’t there to expand further.

KSSN is the model for Gov. Snyder’s Pathways to Potential program, which is expanding dramatically statewide, but our local DHHS leaders are not given the staffing necessary to keep up with the demand. They can’t deploy DHHS family support specialists in all of the KSSN schools, let alone promise more for new schools and districts waiting to get in.

The need in our schools, as measured by poverty and free/reduced lunch rates, triples the number of buildings now served by KSSN. At least 90 school buildings within Kent ISD have sufficient students at risk to qualify for services. The need is there. The resources are not.

It takes a village. Schools can’t do this alone.

Our unemployment rate is down, but our poverty rate is up. The per capita income in Michigan has barely grown since the depths of the recession, even as our statewide unemployment rate is below the national average.
Our children and families need these supports.

Our community created the model for the state. Our community is making a difference through KSSN in the 30 school buildings we serve. We must find a way to reach all children in need.

It takes a village. Schools can’t do this alone.

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Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler is the Kent ISD Superintendent and offers his commentary on issues in education.


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