In June 2015, then-Tallahassee City Commissioner Gil Ziffer visited the first community partnership school in Florida: Evans High in Orlando’s rough Pine Hills neighborhood. Ziffer was curious about the school’s dramatic improvement under its new model and wondered whether that approach could work in his hometown.

He came back sold.

Within a few years after Evans became a community partnership school, it went from being considered a “dropout factory” to landing a B ranking with the state Department of Education. Its graduation rate shot up from 64 percent to 88 percent. Attendance and parental engagement grew, while disciplinary infractions dropped.

The secret? A wide array of services in a poverty-stricken, high-crime area: food, health care, counseling, tutoring, internships and other supports – not only to students and their families but to the entire neighborhood.

“The whole atmosphere at that school changed,” Ziffer said.

It’s changed even more since his visit, with even better outcomes in many cases.

Meanwhile, the number of community partnership schools has grown to 15 statewide, and the 2019 Legislature allocated $7.1 million in recurring funds to encourage more.

And four years after Ziffer’s visit to Evans, Tallahassee cut the ribbon Tuesday morning on its first community partnership school, Sabal Palm Elementary in the southwest part of the city.

The initial location has changed, along with some of the players, but the guiding principle has not: four key partners, each with a 25-year commitment: the Leon County School District; the Florida A&M College of Education; Florida State University PrimaryHealth, overseen by its College of Medicine; and the Children’s Home Society of Florida.

Charles McDonald, then the regional director for the Children’s Home Society of Florida, credits visits to Evans and Pensacola’s Weis Elementary by local leaders with finally getting the project off the ground. He organized two bus trips to Weis, the first elementary school in Florida to adopt the community partnership model, taking Leon County School superintendent Rocky Hanna and school board members, Sabal Palm principal Anicia Robinson and local university officials.

“It had felt for many months as if we were spinning our wheels,” McDonald said. “But once people saw Weis and talked to their counterparts, they were ready to go.”

Originally posted by: Tallahassee Democrat