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Community Schools Top Ten 2015

1. Game Changing Federal Policy Wins
The Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law, (ESSA) includes Full Service Community Schools for the first time in the law’s history and contains several other provisions supportive of community schools. The bill’s passage represents a pivotal moment for the community schools movement. It empowers state and district leaders to rethink strategies to support all students and to see their communities as vital partners in that effort. In addition, ten more federal Full Service Community School grants were awarded this year; they will soon join our 2015 award winners as exemplars of the power of community schools.

2. More Mayors Join the Community Schools Movement

Mayors in big cities who face multiple challenges in education are embracing community schools, including Ras Baraka in Newark and Jim Kenney in Philadelphia. New York City Mayor De Blasio increased his unprecedented investment in community schools to scale them to 130 sites. This rising support from mayors signals their recognition of the importance of aligning school, city and other community resources to enable young people to thrive.

3. Chief State School Officers Come On Board
We can now count at least six state chiefs who explicitly support community schools as a vehicle for student and school improvement. Illinois state chief Tony Smith and Pennsylvania chief Pedro Rivera as former superintendents in Oakland, CA and Lancaster, PA respectively, embraced community schools locally and are working to spread this vision in their states. New York State chief MaryEllen Elia has called for an expansion of community schools in her state, and Tom Torlakson of California is supportive as more communities across the state embrace community schools. Indiana’s Glenda Ritz and Wisconsin’s Tony Evers are backing community schools specifically as a promising school improvement strategy. The Coalition’s relationship with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) will help us expand this number.

4. Momentum in State Legislatures
Community schools legislation passed in Ohio, Minnesota, and Maine and the District of Columbia expanded its grant program for a second year in a row. The number of states involved is greater than any other year with 12 bills introduced across nine states. These states span the political spectrum-from California to, Texas from Minnesota to Ohio -- reinforcing that community schools is a bipartisan strategy.

5. Superintendents Step Up for Community Schools
The Coalition’s Superintendents Leadership Network-co-led with AASA was bolstered by its two co-chairs: Superintendents Steve Webb of Vancouver, WA and Teresa Neal of Grand Rapids, MI. These champions for community schools will help superintendents across the country realize the powerful vision of community schools, particularly at a time when ESSA transfers more flexibility to districts to find innovative ways to ensure student success.

6. Community Voice Rises for Community Schools
Community-based leaders raised their voice for community schools as they called for greater transparency and equity in their school systems. From the national campaign by Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools that calls for transformational parent and community engagement as part of sustainable community schools to the hunger strike in Chicago to save a neighborhood school bravely led by Jitu Brown of the Journey for Justice, we saw parents and community residents standing up for community schools. Community voice will be crucial in ensuring that ESSA fulfills its equity mission.

7. Heightened Media Recognition for Community Schools
We now see articles about community schools in the media nearly every day and from top outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Education Week. Stories about Albuquerque, the site of the 2016 National Forum, and many other places are accessible on our news page. This nearly daily coverage means the public is becoming more familiar with community schools as a household term.

8. Think Tanks Pay Attention to Community Schools
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Brookings released a joint report with solutions to address poverty that calls for community schools. Brookings wrote a report about Schools as Community Hubs: Integrating Support Services to Drive Educational Outcomes. New books including Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, and Dale Russakoff’s The Prize talk about community schools as a solution to local problems. The Coalition’s new paper: A Framework for More and Better Learning through Community Schools Partnerships underscored the learning dimensions of community schools. And in a comprehensive evaluation of the Canyons School District (Utah) showed powerful academic, behavioral and family engagement results.

9. Growing Partnerships with United Ways
The United Way Community Schools Learning Community continued to grow in 2015 with over 40 chapters now involved. For example, the United Way of Salt Lake was recognized for its outstanding work as a community schools initiative winner for the Coalition’s National Awards for Excellence. And the United Way of the National Capital Area announced a $5 million investment in community schools across the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region.

10. A Compelling Vision for Community Schools Through 2020
The Coalition and its partners have set a bold vision for community schools by 2020: to double our movement to 200 places and for all community schools to be in the top half of schools by 2025. Our strategic plan outlines the strategies and work that will get us there. 2015 has proven a landmark year, but the challenges ahead are daunting as we see and understand the inequities that our young people face. We are grateful for the passion and commitment of our partners and everyone working in community schools to our shared vision of schools as centers of flourishing communities where everyone belongs, works together, and thrives.

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