The Alberta Teachers’ Association defines a community
school as a school where first priority is given to the basic education
function for children and youth; a community centre where citizens of all ages
may take part in a multiplicity of activities; where appropriate, a centre for
delivery and coordination of social services for the community; and where
possible, a focus of community life and community improvement.
The assignment of first priority to the
basic education function is supported in this province by the report of the
Commission on Educational Planning (1972). In this report, the school is not
portrayed as leading in the creation of a new social order in the community.
However, wherever possible and feasible, community needs are met by joint
community–school activities. The opposite emphasis, where community improvement
and community service predominate, could divert the school from its prime
Although the basic education focus is more
common in the Canadian experience, it is of concern that there is still
tremendous divergence of opinion about the concept. This lack of consensus and
wide variability makes it difficult to discuss community schools in general.
The meaning of community must be
defined. It is not simply the citizens who live in a geographic area. Rather, a
community is a group sharing interests, concerns and values. It is possible to
have two or more communities in the same geographic area. A successful
community school must have three basic components: a high level of credibility
of the school and the school staff in the eyes of the community, a high degree
of community homogeneity or agreement in terms of desired goals and means to
reach those goals and a close fit between the local community and the
provincial or national interests and needs.
The governance of a community school is a
potential problem. Within a school, the lines of authority and responsibility
are clear. Similarly, in a school system there are clear‑cut administrative
patterns. A community school introduces a school–community council. Its powers
and responsibilities vis‑à‑vis the school must be clearly specified, in theory
and in practice. The council should have the responsibility for identifying
needs, assigning priorities among them, examining proposals for meeting them
and acquiring resources for supporting them.
The basic education of children and youth
must not be downgraded to a secondary position relative to other community
agencies, such as culture, social service or recreation, by those who espouse
community education. All instruction in community schools that is intended to
culminate in student grades or standing in school subjects must be under the
control of certificated persons under a contract of employment with the school
In a community school project,
participation of all professional staff, including both classroom teachers and
those in designated positions, must be entirely voluntary. Use of transfer
provisions to move teachers against their wishes is intolerable. Persuasion is
legitimate but neither veiled nor overt pressures are acceptable.
The staff of the school must not be
pressured into activities relating to a community school that go beyond normal
school duties. Community schools add to the workload of school staff, from the
principal to caretakers and secretaries. In the enthusiasm generated by a
community school movement, teachers may work night and day, literally. Teachers
and other staff are generally willing to meet unforeseen emergencies even
though these place additional demands on their time and energy. But no staff
can be expected, on a long‑term basis, to work under constant overload
conditions. Community schools require additional staff.
Resources allocated to the basic education
program must be adequate to meet the needs of that program, must be used for
that program and must remain under the control of the school. Neither community
agencies nor their programs should command or demand these resources.
The community school, with its expanded
program and use, will cost significantly more to build and to operate than do
traditional schools. An unrealistic approach to the greater cost implications
inherent in the concept will lead to serious problems. Extra professional time
is required and this means that extra money must be spent on more professional
staff. More money will be needed, too, to finance expanded facilities, expanded
program supplies, increased operating and maintenance costs, accelerated rates
of depreciation of equipment and plant.
It is the Association’s position that the
roles and responsibilities of all participants in community schools must be
clearly delineated in advance and in a way that is acceptable to all who may be
involved. School staffs must not be left to battle this out with community
forces. Such struggles will not contribute to betterment of either school or
community. They could be a major source of disagreement and misunderstanding,
thereby creating discord within the community and creating a rift where none previously
The potential hassles and the
uncertainties inherent in these proposals are reasons for deep and genuine
apprehension on the part of teachers. Because they will be held ultimately
responsible, teachers must retain commensurate authority and control for the
basic education of the children and youth in the schools.
Although agreement on the precise nature
of the concept is lacking and consensus on an acceptable definition is
nonexistent to date, the concept of community schools is an attempt to address
some important concerns besetting modern society. As a consequence, it merits
serious consideration by educational and other social agencies to assess more
adequately its potential for positive input to solutions of problems. Like
numerous other innovations that have preceded it, the community school is no
panacea for the shortcomings of our educational system. Similarly, it is
unlikely that the notion of community schools will prove a cure‑all for either
community defects or the deficiencies of governments. Despite a lack of
tangible evidence resulting from implementation on a broad basis over a
significant period of time, and despite the numerous dissimilarities in the
limited experiments with its inception, the concept of community schools should
not be summarily dismissed as having no place in our society.
Thus, provided safeguards are in place to
protect its concerns for the basic education function of schools, the learning
conditions of pupils and the professional autonomy of its members, the
Association supports the voluntary introduction of community schools, as it
defines them, in those communities in Alberta where school personnel,
educational authorities, the community and its various agencies are all
genuinely in favour of their establishment.