What is community education and why is it a big deal to all communities? This week we sit down with Alex Fisher, who recently started a new job as the director of community education for the Hopkins School District. We talk about what his job is, how community ed is beneficial to the community – even empty nesters – and how the principles of community education apply to Judaism, on this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.
You can read an excerpt below, but for the whole interview, please listen or subscribe to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher, with more to come later soon. Please subscribe, rate, and review. And of course, if you have suggestions of others who would be great subjects, let us know!
For people who don’t know, tell us what is community education and what falls under your purview?
Community Education is part of the school district. So each district has a community education fund where different programs are run out of. Community Education is [Early Childhood Family Education], all early childhood programs preschool our early childhood and family education. There’s also all school-time programs like childcare before school, after school, youth enrichment like chess club. It’s also adult enrichment; I don’t know if you’ve ever participated in any adult enrichment through community ed, but I did a lot. Previously I did a sourdough bread baking class with my mom, and I did a drawing class at certain times. It’s also adult basic education: Adults who are learning English in our community, or adults who have stopped attending high school but want to come back and get their GED or another adult diploma, or new job skills.
A school district the size of Hopkins, that’s got to be a pretty big responsibility in terms of oversight of everything that goes on because there’s a lot of people that fall within the borders of the Hopkins school district.
There are a number of municipalities or cities that are in our attendance area, and so we do engagement in all of those communities. Areas like St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Plymouth, and I’m going to stop right there because I don’t have the list of cities and I don’t want to leave anyone out.
This is a return to Hopkins for you because you were a classroom teacher in the district for nine years; what led you to not necessarily come back to the district but to go from the classroom teaching side to the more administrative community ed side?
I love being a classroom teacher, but I found myself growing kind of increasingly helpless and uncomfortable with the opportunity gaps in our classrooms, and I felt like I needed to do more and affect systems and more of a higher level because I loved the connections with the families and loved the connections with the students, but I realized more needed to be done. At a certain point I realized that community partnerships are really what can drive our schools forward and I became a big proponent I guess of working with parents, working with community organizations, going out in the community and really trying to partner there, because I guess the problem is that we’re seeing in our schools are bigger than just our teachers and bigger than just our principals; we actually need our community involved and so that’s kind of how I went on this path.
So what role do you think not just you personally but the concept of community education departments in general at school districts can help fill that kind of opportunity gap that you speak of and help build those partnerships?
I think it’s easy from the outside to look and say schools should be doing more. And if you look in Minnesota especially there’s a huge gap between white students and students of color students, students are higher socioeconomic categories and students who come from lower-income families; there’s just an enormous gap that is one of the largest in the country. We really need to do more than we’re doing and we need to look at schools in a different way because they haven’t been working for everyone. So getting help from our community and finding mentorship opportunities and finding people who want to make a difference and who can give us their input and give us their feedback, that can really help us move forward and do things in different ways. But without that feedback and without that engagement we just it will continue to do things the same way and that hasn’t been working for people.