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WIND POINT — Following Gilbert Knapp Elementary School’s success with the model, Julian Thomas Elementary School will be transitioning to a community school, Racine Unified School District Superintendent Eric Gallien announced Thursday evening.

Gallien made the announcement during a presentation at The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread in Wind Point that showcased improvements Knapp students have made in the two years since the school began operating as a community school, or a school meant to serve as a community hub and increase parent involvement.

Knapp, 2701 17th St., has seen heightened math and reading scores, higher parent participation and less staff turnover after introducing community nights, changes in teaching methods and changes in disciplinary methods, co-principals Danielle Dekker and Rich Wytonick said during the presentation.

“Right now, the proof is in the pudding, because we’re seeing it (positive results),” Wytonick said.

One example of the positive impact of the community school model, according to Wytonick and Dekker’s presentation, was that 70 percent of students were below basic math competency during the 2016-17 school year, the first year Knapp used the model. That number dropped to 49 percent for the 2017-18 school year.

Unified is working with United Way of Racine County to bring positive changes to Julian Thomas just as it did with Knapp. The 2018-19 school year will be a foundational year before the community model is fully implemented for the 2019-20 school year, said Rodney Prunty, president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Racine County.

“We don’t want to just do it cookie cutter and say, ‘We’re going to do what we did at Knapp with Julian Thomas,’” Prunty said. “We want to truly, authentically engage the community. So, we’re going to have community conversations with the parents, the teaching staff, the community around, what do you care about? What kind of services do you want to see in this school?”

Changes for Julian Thomas

Demetri Beekman, principal of Julian Thomas, 930 Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, said he plans to work closely with Wytonick, Dekker and students’ parents to determine the best way to approach his school’s transition.

“We want to embrace them (the Julian Thomas community) to come into our building,” Beekman said. “We have a beautiful building, and we really just want to help the parents as much as possible with any need that they may have. We want to be able to provide that for them.”

Beekman said one of the biggest challenges he hopes to overcome by moving to the community school model is low parent engagement.

“I know they work as hard as they can to provide for their children,” Beekman said. “But getting them in the building (will) allow us to be able to help them with some of the things that they might not be able to take care of on their own, which is then going to impact student achievement and academic growth within our school.”

Gallien said he was excited to expand the program given its success at Knapp.

“It has been a blessing to that community,” Gallien said. “It has been a breath of life for those families. They now have a hub in the community that they can come to and have resources there. For us as an organization, we’ve learned a lot about how collaborative communities, when they work together, they can really do something wonderful like a community school.”

“We have a beautiful building, and we really just want to help the parents as much as possible with any need that they may have. We want to be able to provide that for them.” Demetri Beekman, principal of Julian Thomas Elementary

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Jonathon Sadowski covers the villages of Union Grove and Yorkville, the Town of Dover, arts, entertainment and odds and ends for The Journal Times.

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