Community partnership schools tapped to combat student poverty, disparity

The St. Johns County School District is spearheading a new initiative that will equip two of its neediest elementary schools against student poverty and disparity barriers.


South Woods Elementary and the Webster School were chosen earlier this year to serve as community partnership schools based on high Title I numbers and surrounding disadvantaged areas.

“The criteria is not necessarily the grade of the school, but what the poverty rate is of the community around the school,” explained Kymberly Cook, the executive director of the Children’s Home Society of Florida in Buckner and North Coastal divisions. “It’s not just how the school is performing, it’s also about the needs of the community.”

The school district, alongside CHS, Flagler Hospital and St. Johns River State College will administer resources to underprivileged students and families, and will establish more local partnerships with time.

“We want any business that will help further education, volunteer, or give grants,” Wood said. “Anything we can put toward the children.”

The two schools are undergoing a nine-month needs assessment to establish individual high-need areas, but organizers say it’s too soon to identify specific concerns at either school.

But Wood said based on other schools’ results, barriers such as hunger, domestic violence, transportation and unemployment can be identified during the assessment.

“And any child coming to school hungry or one that’s been dealing with violence, it’s hard for them to focus,” she said. “Our goal is to make it where children can come to school and those things are no longer on their minds.”

The community partnership schools will work with parents and school staff to meet demands such as on-site health care access, food pantries and counseling.

“We’ll be looking for ways to remove the barriers to education, barriers to employment, barriers to transportation. We’ll look at everything,” Wood said. “Then we’ll remove those barriers so the kids can just focus on learning.”

Chris Stone, the community partnership director at South Woods, said although it will be some time before the assessment is complete, the school is already targeting and serving needs as they arise.

“The first year of development is all about the needs assessment,” he said, adding later: “But there are needs we know we can address before the assessment is completed and that’s finding volunteers and mentors and proctors.”

Stone said it’s possible South Woods and Webster will produce different results and require individualized resources. But he’s comfortable knowing those resources can be found right in the community. The process, he added, rewards both students and residents.

“There’s impact not only to students in households, but to community members as well,” Stone said.

Wood said it will take Webster and South Woods five years to establish program maturity, but agreements are in place to support the schools for the next 25 years.