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Solving problems in schools: Bring community in, leader says in Fort Worth

By Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

The U.S. must reverse its school dropout problem, “or we will longer be a great nation,” the founder of the 30-year-old Communities in Schools program said Thursday in Fort Worth.

Bringing the community into schools and establishing relationships with students is critical, Bill Milliken, who today is vice chair of the Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit, said during an appearance at Communities in Schools Greater Tarrant County lunch at the Petroleum Club.

“It’s relationships that change people, not programs,” Milliken said. “Quit asking which programs change people’s lives, because there aren’t any.”

Communities in Schools sends social workers into schools to work one-on-one with at-risk youth in intensive case management.

In Tarrant County last year, the nonprofit served 24,758 students in 39 schools.Of those, 70 percent improved their grades, 82 percent, attendance, 92 percent, behavior, and 91 percent, promotion to the next grade, Communities in Schools said. Ninety seven percent of high school seniors graduated.

“There’s no secret,” Stuart Murff, president of the one-year-old Communities in Schools Foundation of Greater Tarrant County that benefits the local CIS nonprofit, said.

“It’s hiring these people that have the desire and the will to make very little money and spend their days with children that are in crisis.”

The Tarrant County nonprofit has 46 social workers today.

The foundation, established by a gift from businessman James Webb in honor of his late wife, has $500,000 today. One donor pledged to match every gift, dollar for dollar, made at Thursday's luncheon.

“We’d like for it to be about a million this time next year,” Murff said in an interview.

One beneficiary of the program, an Azle sixth grader named Theron Bowman, spoke to the lunch group about his experience in the program.

Diagnosed with chronic medical problems in infancy, Theron said before the lunch that he internalized his problems and would “go off.”

“He didn’t want to explain to anyone he was sick,” his mother, Cansas Sorrett, said. “He would get frustrated and kind of lash out.”

Theron started working with a social worker through Communities in Schools in the fourth grade, and today, he’s on the honor roll at Hoover Elementary School in Azle.

One of the pieces of advice his social worker gave him when he became angry: “They would just tell me to breathe,” Theron, 12, says.

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