Born and raised in Pine Hills, one of Orlando’s most historically underserved communities, Timothy Only believes his life would have taken a very different turn had he not gone to Evans High School.
“I would have been in a casket or behind bars if it was not for Evans High School,” says Only. “In Pine Hills, you really don’t have people to look up to. Friends became dope dealers to provide for their families. There was nothing uplifting to use as an example.”
But Only is among the thousands of students who have thrived at one of Florida’s 15 Community Partnership Schools, a model that leverages four key partners — the school district, a healthcare provider, a nonprofit organization and a college or university — to provide an array of educational and community resources at the schools. The number of schools under this model statewide is expected to grow to 27 during the next year as a result of a boost from state leaders that provides new funding, formalizes a comprehensive statewide model, and designates UCF’s Center for Community Schools to lead the charge.
“The growth and impact of the Community Partnership Schools would not be possible without our great partnership with the Children’s Home Society of Florida and leadership from many in the Legislature,” UCF Interim President Thad Seymour Jr. says. “We’re especially grateful for their support, and together, we will lift many lives through the power of education and other services to help them and their families.”
Among the legislative champions are Representatives Colleen Burton, Jennifer Sullivan and Chris Latvala ’04, and Senators Dennis Baxley, Manny Diaz, Kelli Stargel and David Simmons, Seymour says.
Evans High School, the state’s first Community Partnership School, offered Only a path to a better future. He used resources ranging from counseling to clothing to internships. At one point, he stayed in temporary housing for seven months when homelife became too tough.
Community Partnership Schools are designed to maximize success both inside and outside the classroom, help reduce crime and enhance the overall quality of life for underserved communities.
Only would go on to graduate in 2017, serving as the class president and commencement speaker and receiving multiple college scholarships.
Community Partnership Schools are designed to maximize success both inside and outside the classroom, help reduce crime and enhance the overall quality of life for underserved communities. Programs include services such as tutoring and mentoring, medical and dental care, and workshops on resume building and financial literacy. Resources are available not just to students, but also, their families and area residents.
Senate Bill 7070, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 9, taps UCF’s Center for Community Schools to administer the funds and provide training and technical assistance statewide to school districts with Community Partnership Schools or that seek to establish one. The legislation also formally established the UCF center in Florida Statutes.
“Community Partnership Schools can transform lives and reshape the future for our students,” says Amy Ellis ’19EdD, the director of UCF’s Center for Community Schools, located in the College of Community Innovation and Education. “This funding will provide the capacity needed to bolster both current and new efforts, an impact that will surely have lasting effect for generations to come.”
The state budget for Fiscal Year 2019-20 includes $7.1 million in grants to help the existing 15 Community Partnership Schools and establish up to 12 new schools statewide with priority given to districts without one.
Florida school districts seeking to establish a Community Partnership School can apply for one of the competitive grant awards beginning July 1. Districts must provide a 25 percent match, either from public or private funds, or from in-kind donations.
Florida’s Community Partnership Schools model requires the four partners to commit their support for at least 25 years. Full implementation of a Community Partnership School is typically a five-year process.
Neighborhoods that already have Community Partnership Schools have seen strong gains in student success.
For example at Evans High School, graduation rates have increased from 64 percent in 2011 to 88 percent in 2018.
At C.A. Weis Elementary School in Pensacola, teacher retention increased from 80 to 96 percent between 2016 and 2017, and out-of-school suspensions dropped from 425 to 113 between 2016 and 2018.
“My time there [Evans High School] helped me understand that even though my life was not perfect it didn’t mean my future had to suffer.” — Timothy Only
Only is now a junior studying criminology at Florida State University. The first in his family to attend college, he is looking forward to a future in law or politics. When he’s not immersed in his schoolwork, he’s serving as an advocate for the Community Partnership Schools program, lending his voice and experience to other communities as they build their programs, and testifying in support of the model before two legislative committees this session.
For Only, being at a Community Partnership School gave him both the courage and the skills to prepare for the next chapter of his life.
“My time there helped me understand that even though my life was not perfect it didn’t mean my future had to suffer,” he says. “It made me stronger and more determined to overcome those obstacles in life.”