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Frequently Asked Questions About Community Schools

#1: What is a Community School?

#2: Why do we need community schools?

#3: Are community schools public schools?

#4: What are the key conditions for learning?

#5: What are the areas in which community schools offer programs and services?

#6: What is the curriculum like in a community school?

#7: What are the guiding principles driving the development of community schools?

#8: What are the benefits/advantages of a community school?

#9: What are the key ingredients of effective community schools?

#10: Do community schools work?

#11: Where can I find some examples of a community school?

#12: What are key factors that make a community school strategy successful?

#13: How much do community schools cost and how are they funded?

#14: How many community schools are currently in operation?

#15: Where can I find evaluations of a community school?

#16: Are there principal preparation and teacher education programs with a community schools focus?

#17: How can I create a community school?

#18: Where can I go for technical assistance?

#19: What is the difference between a community school, full service community school, extended service schools etc.?

What is a Community School?

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends. Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities. Learn more here.

Why do we need community schools?

We need community schools because research and experience tell us that young people need a wide range of opportunities and supports to succeed. A quality academic program is necessary, but not sufficient. The recent Phi Delta Kappan Poll about public attitudes toward education shows that 70% of Americans blame societal factors for challenges such as the achievement gap and dropouts that face schools. Community schools respond to these societal factors, family circumstances, poverty and health problems.

We also need community schools because all our children regardless of their economic, racial or family circumstances deserve access to the array of opportunities that more well off families provide to their children.

And we need them because schools must re-engage the broader public and community schools are the place where this can happen.

"We tend to put considerations of family, community, and economy off-limits in education-reform policy discussions. However, we do so at our peril. The seriousness of our purpose requires that we learn to rub our bellies and pat our heads at the same time." – Paul Barton, Facing the Hard Facts in Education Reform.

The Realities that Schools Face

Community schools address many of the realities that challenge today’s schools and educators:

  • Cultural Disconnects
  • Disengaged Students
  • Poverty
  • Too Much Unstructured Time
  • Unaddressed Health Needs
  • Transience
  • School Violence and Unsafe School Environments
  • Overburdened and Under Resourced Schools

For data related to each of these factors go to Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools by Martin J. Blank, Atelia Melaville and Bela P. Shah. Look in Chapter 1. The Community Schools Advantage.

For an analysis of the relationship between poverty and academic achievement, see a recent speech and article by David Berliner. (It may require a $5 payment, but it is well worth it.)

Non-School Factors Affecting the Achievement Gap

Research published by the Educational Testing also identifies eight factors beyond school that contribute to the student achievement gap:

Weight at birth
Lead poisoning
Hunger and nutrition
Reading to young children
TV watching
Parent availability and support
Student mobility
Parent participation

Source: Parsing the Achievement Gap: Baselines for Tracking Progress by Paul Barton, Educational Testing Service.

What is the difference between a community school, full service community school, extended service schools etc.?

The term community school offers the broadest definition of the relationship between school and community. Many people use the terms above interchangeably; others use them differently. The Coalition is not particularly concerned with the nuanced differences between these terms. Rather, we encourage people to expand on their own vision of school and community relationships, adding components and strategies that help to achieve better outcomes for students, families and communities. Overtime, we believe that approach will lead people toward the vision of a community schools that we have set forth.

Are community schools public schools?

Yes, any school whether financed with public or private funds can be considered a community school if it exhibits the characteristics of a community school. Regular public schools, charter schools, parochial schools and private schools can all be community schools. The primary focus of the Coalition is on public schools.

What are the conditions for learning that Community Schools seek to create?

Community school advocates believe that the present emphasis on academics exemplified by the No Child Left Behind Act is too narrow an approach to public education. We believe that schools together with their communities must work to fulfill five conditions for learning that the Coalition has identified as necessary for every child to succeed, based on an analysis of recent research.

These conditions are:

  • Condition #1: The school has a core instructional program with qualified teachers, a challenging curriculum, and high standards and expectations for students.
  • Condition #2: Students are motivated and engaged in learning -- both in school and in community settings, during and after school.
  • Condition #3: The basic physical, mental and emotional health needs of young people and their families are recognized and addressed.
  • Condition #4: There is mutual respect and effective collaboration among parents, families and school staff.
  • Condition #5: Community engagement, together with school efforts, promotes a school climate that is safe, supportive and respectful and connects students to a broader learning community.

Learn more about the specific studies that support each of the five conditions for learning in the full Making the Difference report in Chapter 2, page 15.

What are the areas in which community schools offer programs and services?

In a community school, youth, families and community residents work as equal partners with schools and other community institutions to develop programs and services in five areas:

  • Quality education - High-caliber curriculum and instruction enable all children to meet challenging academic standards. The school uses all of the community's assets as resources for learning and involves students in contributing to the solution of community problems.
  • Youth development - Young people develop their assets and talents, form positive relationships with peers and adults, and serve as resources to their communities.
  • Family support - Family resource centers, early childhood development programs, coordinated health, mental health and social services, counseling, and other supports enhance family life by building upon individuals' strengths and skills.
  • Family and community engagement - Family members and other residents actively participate in designing, supporting, monitoring and advocating quality programs and activities in the school and community.
  • Community development - All participants focus on strengthening the local leadership, social networks, economic viability and physical infrastructure of the surrounding community.

The array of specific services that individual community schools offer varies extensively by site. An analysis by the Coalition shows activity in the following areas:

  • Adult Education
  • After School
  • Community Development
  • Community Engagement
  • Early Childhood Services
  • Family Involvement
  • Family Support
  • Mental Health
  • Physical Health
  • Youth Development

Too many schools have services in these various areas but no plan for how to integrate those services to achieve specific results. A coherent plan is essential for a successful community school.

What is the curriculum like in a community school?

In a community schools the curriculum is designed to engage and motivate students to learn at high standards. The Coalition is deeply concerned that the current test-driven curriculum is creating classrooms that do not engage young people in their own learning. We believe that real world issues and challenges must find their way into the classroom and the community must become part of the classroom. For more information about our approach please see: Creating a Culture of Attachment: A Community-as-Text Approach to Learning and Community Based Learning: Engaging Students for Success and Citizenship

What are the guiding principles driving the development of community schools?

There are many community school models, but they tend to share a core set of operating principles:

  • Foster strong partnerships -- Partners share their resources and expertise and work together to design community schools and make them work.
  • Share accountability for results -- Clear, mutually agreed-upon results drive the work of community schools. Data helps partners measure progress toward results. Agreements enable them to hold each other accountable and move beyond "turf battles."
  • Set high expectations for all -- Community schools are organized to support learning. Children, youth and adults are expected to learn at high standards and be contributing members of their community.
  • Build on the community's strengths -- Community schools marshal the assets of the entire community -- including the people who live and work there, local organizations, and the school.
  • Embrace diversity -- Community schools know their communities. They work to develop respect and a strong, positive identity for people of diverse backgrounds and are committed to the welfare of the whole community.

Find out more about National, State, and Local community schools:

What are the benefits/advantages of a community school?

Unlike traditional public schools, community schools link school and community resources as an integral part of their design and operation. Consequently, community schools have three major advantages that schools acting alone do not. Community Schools:

  • Garner additional resources to reduce the demand on school staff for addressing all the challenges that students bring to school.
Community schools reach outside their walls to leverage services and programs that help meet a range of needs that affect student learning -- including family mobility, violence, unsupervised out-of-school time and other issues that have become facts of life for too many children in today's society.This approach gives principals and teachers more time to concentrate on their core mission: Improving student learning.

  • Provide learning opportunities that develop academic and non-academic competencies.
Community schools support the intellectual, physical, psychoemotional and social development of young people and understand that assets in one area reinforce development in another.Abundant opportunities for learning and exploration in school, after school and in the community help students mature in all areas.
  • Build social capital -- the networks and relationships that support learning and create opportunities for young people while strengthening their communities. 
Social capital connects students to people and information that can help them solve problems and meet their goals. Community schools enable all students to forge networks and social skills through mentoring relationships with caring adults, school-to-work learning, community service and other experiences, while providing parents and other adults with similar opportunities to learn and assume leadership roles.

 What are the key ingredients of effective community schools?

  • Principals, who know their community, see achieving equity as fundamental to their work, and make their building a place where educators, partners, and the public feel comfortable working together.
  • Skilled teachers who have high expectations for their students and enjoy collaborative relationships with families and community partners, and who offer students robust learning experiences that draw on community resources and expertise.
  • Community partners with the expertise to help achieve the goals of the community school and who are well integrated into the life of the school.
  • A community schools coordinator, who serves as a bridge between school and community, aligns the work of educators and community partners toward a common set of results, and supports a site leadership team.
  • A site leadership team that gives families, young people, and residents a voice and involves them, along with educators, and community partners in the planning, implementation, and oversight of the community school.
  • A community needs and assets assessment that identifies the needs of students, schools, families and the community as well as the assets of individuals, formal institutions and agencies, and informal organizations in the community that can be mobilized to meet these needs.
  • A focus on results and accountability that uses data to define specific indicators which the community school seeks to improve, and the capacity to collect and analyze data to measure progress.

Do community schools work?

Evaluations of 20 initiatives nationwide confirm that community schools have a positive impact on what matters most to students, parents, communities and schools. A recent Coalition research brief, concludes that:

  • Student learning improves.
  • Student attendance improves.
  • Students have improved behavior and youth development.
  • Parent and family participation – in their children’s education and in the school – increases.
  • Families have more opportunities and support in caring for and helping to educate their children, and in contributing to their community.

Community schools generate other positive outcomes as well. Improved safety and security, increased community pride, stronger relationships between school and community, and greater utilization of schools and other public services and facilities all reflect the broader "community-building" role of community schools. Community schools and their students come to be seen as valued resources, and communities feel a great stake in and accountability for student success.

Where can I find some examples of a community school?

Download "Community Schools Across the Nation: A Sampling of Local Initiatives and National Models."

What are key factors that make a community school strategy successful?

The following findings from the publication, Learning Together: The Developing Field of School-Community Initiatives address key factors in the success of community schools strategies.

  • Stable leadership and long-term financing methods are vital to sustaining and expanding preschool-community initiatives.
  • Diversified funding, careful site selection, visibility and organized constituent support are also important.
  • "Going to Scale" depends not only on increasing the number of sites but also on ensuring that the initiative’s guiding principles penetrate and transform schools, their partner institutions and neighborhoods.
  • Successful expansion requires clear goals, good timing and sufficient funding and support to maintain essential program features during periods of rapid growth.

Community schools are designed to do a better job for children and families by using existing resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Source: Learning Together: The Developing Field of School-Community Initiatives by Atelia Melaville.

For additional information on the role of Community Leadership see, Growing Community Schools: The Role of Cross-Boundary Leadership. This resource highlights community schools work in 11 places. There are now over 80 places implementing scaled-up systems of community schools.

How much do community schools cost and how are they funded?

Community schools are intended to respond to the needs of the students, their families and community. Therefore the amount of money that is needed will vary depending on those circumstances.

What is most pivotal from a financing standpoint is money to pay for a Community School Coordinator. This individual is responsible for mobilizing community resources and integrating them into the life of the school. They can be employed by a school district, community-based organization or public agency. Salaries for this position should be at a professional level and competitive with those of people in similar roles, e.g., teachers and social workers. Communities are using a range of different funding streams to pay for this position.

Programs and services at community schools are financed through a variety of public and private funding streams that support particular services, e.g., Title I, 21st Century Learning grants, United Ways, after school, mental health, service learning, parent engagement and many others. Because they operate as partnerships between schools and community schools, capturing money is often not the issue. Rather the challenge is creating an environment in the school that encourages community agencies and organizations to bring their programs into the school, and has the school reaching out into the community. The community schools coordinator is vital for creating this environment.

Flexible funds that can be used to respond to specific needs can be an important impetus for getting the community school off the ground.

Ideally, initial funding would be available for the salary of a full-time community school coordinator at a salary that gives them status at the school and encourages a long term commitment, and $50,000 in flexible program dollars. Remember though, there is not an exact formula. Leadership and will are as important as money.

For more information, visit the Resource Library for publications on "Financing."

How many community schools are currently in operation?

Because community schools come in so many shapes and sizes – they are not a formal model --we do not have an exact number. We do know that many schools are moving to implement the community schools approach. The Coalition has compiled a directory of 5,000 national and international community schools. The purpose of this directory is to:

  • Help policymakers and practitioners find community schools in their areas
  • Create opportunities for mentorship and peer networking,
  • Describe the character of the community school field more fully,
  • Generate visibility and momentum for everyone's work.

Access the Community School Initiatives: State-to-State Directory.

Where can I find evaluations of a community school?

The Center for Community School Partnerships at the University of California, Davis offers a number of tools to assist school community partnership with their evaluation process.

Key Evaluation Findings from Making the Difference research confirms what experience has long suggested: Community schools work. Evaluations examined the impact of 20 community school initiatives across America, focusing in particular on outcomes that directly affect student learning. Although not all evaluations looked at every outcome, their collective results clearly show that community schools make the difference for students in four important ways.

Also,access the Coalition's Research Brief.

For evaluation tools, visit the Community Schools Evaluation Toolkit.

Are there principal preparation and teacher education programs with a community schools focus?

Regrettably, we do not know of any comprehensive programs that have a community schools focus. Some principal preparation and teachers training programs focus on family and community challenges or helping teachers use the community as resource for learning, but in reality family and community are typically given short shrift. This remains true despite the research that talks about the importance of parental involvement with the education of their children. Nor do principals and teachers learn how to tap the assets and resources of community to help their student succeed. There is huge gap in this arena that will have to be bridged if community schools are to fulfill their promise.

To learn more, check out: Community & Family Engagement: Principals Share What Works, [October 2006], by Amy C. Berg, Atelia Melaville and Martin J. Blank at the Coalition for Community Schools.

How can I create a community school?

For tools to help you launch, plan or sustain a community school initiative, visit our Resource library to access planning materials and tools that will help you get started in creating a community school!

If you are able, we recommend you go to visit a community school. That is what will make the vision come alive. Contact us at to find a community school near you.

Where can I go for technical assistance?

To learn about organizations that help community school initiatives fine tune their planning and management, visit our Technical Assistance page.

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