Director reflects on grant initiative

Published 10:42 am Tuesday, January 16, 2024


In October, the Danville Independent School District received the news it would be one of 20 districts part of the Prichard Committee’s Kentucky Community Schools Initiative, and that the district would receive approximately $1.5 million over the course of five years to create “community-led educational solutions” geared toward Danville students and families.

This work included hiring a Director of Full Service Community Schools. The district chose Dakota Yates to fill this role. He was formerly an interventionist at Mary G. Hogsett Primary School, and before that, he was a first-grade teacher there.

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In December, Yates and a group of district leaders, including Beacon Youth Services Center Director Sequoya Brand and Families First Family Resource Center Director Jenny Clark, completed training in Lexington that covered the work involved with the initiative, budgets, and more.

The group also included the principals and assistant principals from the schools participating in the Prichard Committee initiative — Edna L. Toliver Intermediate School and Danville High School — as well as Chief Academic Officer Suzanne Farmer, a parent representative, and Harold Nally of the Danville-Boyle County Development Corporation.

With the new year, the group will be examining self-assessments, needs assessments and areas of growth at Toliver and DHS, and creating an action plan, Yates said.

The group will also be meeting with community leaders such as United Way, Mayor James “J.H.” Atkins and others who can be a part of the conversation surrounding how the community can come together to meet the needs of students and families.

“This work is about thinking outside the box, and I love to think outside the box,” Yates said. “So I’m excited about that part and really thinking about unique ways that we can help our families and help our students succeed and grow our programs, and our schools and teachers.”

Yates said he is excited about the potential for increased collaboration between teachers and Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSC), as well as the opportunity to brainstorm sustainable solutions to issues students in the district face, particularly non-academic barriers to learning.

“I’m excited about that aspect — of really getting to know our students at a deeper level so that we can meet their academic needs by breaking down these barriers that are non-academic,” he said.

From a personal perspective, he said he grew up poor, and he had limited transportation to extracurricular activities and faced other difficulties.

“So I am empathetic with a lot of the families we serve, because I understand some of the struggles they’re going through, whether it’s food insecurity, not being able to pay the bills on time — because I’ve seen that happen from a firsthand perspective,” he said.

After deciding medical school wasn’t the right fit for him, he started studying education, working as a camp director and managing after-school programs. He is excited that part of the Prichard Committee grant’s work includes a focus on expanding after-school and other extracurricular programming, and focusing on development of the whole child.

“When we talk about those after school services, that’s another passion of mine as well, making sure that kids are offered all the opportunities for success and making sure we’re accommodating families’ needs,” he said. “I really wanted to work at a school that focused on the families’ needs, not just the students’ needs, and understanding the whole child.”

He has also gotten the opportunity to learn from a couple of districts that were pilot schools with the Prichard Committee’s Kentucky Community Schools Initiative. Owensboro Public Schools and Daviess County Public Schools are two of four school districts who were participating in the program before 16 additional districts, including Danville Schools, were chosen.

Owensboro and Daviess County school districts organized a combined meeting with their community, and at the meeting Yates was able to see how meetings between the district and community to discuss student and family needs go, and heard from their FRYSC leaders. Community members were also able to ask the district about the work they are doing.

Going forward, using the Four Pillars of Kentucky Community Schools upon which the Prichard Committee initiative is based (Active family and community engagement, expanded and enriched learning times, integrated supports, and collaborative leadership and practices to support high-quality teaching), the DISD will use its findings from self-assessments and needs assessments at Toliver and DHS, as well as conversations with students, staff, families, and the broader community, to establish pipeline services the schools want to focus on.

Some pipeline services include: encouraging family and community involvement, community-based support for students, high-quality early childhood education programs, high-quality programs in and out of the classroom, helping kids smoothly transition between different school levels, support postsecondary and workforce readiness, social, health nutrition and mental health services, and juvenile crime prevention and rehabilitation programs.

Want to learn more about the Prichard Committee’s Kentucky Community Schools Initiative? Read this article about how the DISD was chosen for the initiative.