Thesis

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COMMUNITY SCHOOLS:

PLANNING SPACE FOR DEMOCRACY AND
CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

A Thesis Presented

for the

Master of Science in Planning Degree

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Jamey L. Dobbs

May 2001

Dedication

I dedicate this thesis to my daughters,
Jessica and Caitlin,
who have inspired me to achieve miraculous things.
Let this thesis remind you
that miracles
are within your reach, too.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank my major professor, Professor Annette Anderson, for her patient attention to detail, mentoring, inspiration, and partnership. I am also very grateful to my committee members, Dr. Virginia Seitz and Dr. Bruce Tonn for their valuable insight, ready assistance, and standards of excellence. I would also like to thank Dr. Charles Minkel, for his critical support of my research. Additional thanks goes to Nancy Loftis for her support over the years.

I am most grateful to the community school agencies for giving so much to this research. Thanks goes to Debi Jordan and the staff of Bowling Green-Warren County Community Education and to Dr. Don Butler; to Peggy Sparks, Otis Dismuke, and the staff of Birmingham Community Education; and to Alice Keene and the staff of Pitt County Community Schools and Recreation.

Other contributions I would like to recognize came from Stephen Bingler, Bobbie Hill, Bob Ritchey, Dr. Bob Kronick, Dr. Joy Dryfoos, Suzanne Rogers, Dr. Paul Kelley, Dr. Mary Lou Kanipe, Persides Zambrano, Betty Jo Norman-Iskra, and Dr. John Hurst, who turned on the lights.

My love, honor, and thanks go to my husband, Gary McCracken, for joining me on this adventure and making my dream of a graduate degree come true. I also thank my step-daughters, Reba and Sally McCracken, for their patience and good spirits. Finally, I want to thank my parents, Jerry and Diane Dobbs, for standing beside me all the way.

ABSTRACT

American society in the twentieth century has been characterized by a decrease in voter turnout, a decline in membership in civic organizations, decreasing volunteerism, and a decline in several other indicators of civic engagement and social capital. Enhancing democratic civic engagement and civic space is worthy issue that has not typically been at the forefront of the agenda of planning. This study investigates the role of community schools as a catalyst for enhancing citizen interaction and community planning, and for creating civic space. While school space represents one of the largest investments of public tax revenue in most municipalities, it is often underutilized while public space needs go unmet.

Community school systems are joint municipal/school partnerships which often operate with staffed agencies to manage the use and programming of school space after school hours for the benefit of the full community. This thesis takes a case study approach to investigate three successful community school systems operating district wide in Bowling Green/Warren County, Kentucky, Greenville/Pitt County, South Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama. The study documents common factors that increase or enhance 1) civic space, 2) participation in community activities and organizations, and 3) public involvement in local decision making. The research findings indicate that communities with long-lived community school systems increase social networks (social capital) and citizen activity and provide a convenient source of civic space. The concurrence of a community schools system, and a staffed structure of neighborhood organizations using school spaces, results in the greatest level of civic engagement in public affairs. Planners and citizens are advised to become involved in collaborations to promote the establishment of community school systems.

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