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CHICAGO, IL: Building Communities

Part Four: Case Studies of Scaling Up Community School Initiatives

Building Communities of Community Schools - Deepening Scale-Up

Chicago is home to the largest system of community schools in the country, thanks to the combined efforts of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), community and philanthropic leaders, and a myriad of social service, advocacy, and community-based organizations. Despite numerous challenges, including changes in CPS leadership and budget cuts, the Chicago Public Schools, drawing on the strength of the City’s diverse neighborhoods and numerous community-based organizations, has made implementation of the community school strategy a critical element of school improvement and community revitalization efforts. Over the last decade the Chicago Community Schools Initiative (CSI) has forged ahead to open more than 150 community schools throughout the district.
CSI schools provide targeted and comprehensive services for students and families based on the full-service CPS community school model. While services are tailored to the specific needs of each site, all schools provide programs in the following areas: 1) academic supports for students, 2) health and wellness access for students and families, 3) social/emotional health services and referrals for students and families, 4) social and cultural enrichment as well as recreational activities, and (5) adult education and family/community engagement programming. Community schools remain open after the regular academic day to provide these programs and services in partnership with community-based organizations.
History of Chicago Community Schools
The genesis of the community school work in Chicago can be traced to the Polk Bros. Foundation’s "Full Service Schools Initiative" (FSSI) launched in 1996. After three years, an evaluation by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that FSSI schools had lower student mobility, increased academic performance, higher rates of attendance and lower rates of truancy than the CPS average.
Based in part on the Chapin Hall report, the urging of local funders, and his own experience working in a community school model, in 2001 Arne Duncan, then CPS CEO, agreed to scale up Polk’s community school model across the district funded by matching private dollars with district funds and other resources.  In 2002, CPS partnered with philanthropic and corporate leaders to launch the Chicago Campaign to Expand Community Schools ("the Campaign") in order to provide additional, coordinated and sustained support to community schools. The goal of the scale-up was ambitious – opening 100 community schools in five years.
It was not hard to convince Duncan; he had strong roots in Chicago neighborhoods due to the work of his mother and his own leadership of the Ariel Education Initiative. He said: 
One of the major goals of our education plan is to have schools become truly the centers of their communities….Because learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum, we want to bring into the schools the families, the civic groups, the social and health organizations, and the business and community groups.

During his annual State of the City Address in 2002, then Mayor Richard M. Daley spoke of the district’s plans to transform 100 Chicago public schools into community schools —"schools that remain open after the regular academic day to provide programs and services for students, their families, and community members and that partner with a community-based organization to provide access to supports that students need to achieve and that families and communities need to thrive."
CPS and philanthropic leaders oversaw the funding and technical assistance that Campaign-sponsored community schools received. Twenty-two foundations and corporations contributed more than $7 million, matched by CPS, to start 37 community schools. The district also put a priority on developing community schools throughout the city.
In 2002, Duncan’s team applied for 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC) funds to support additional community schools. These schools, along with the Campaign-sponsored community schools, were eventually rolled into CPS’s Community Schools Initiative (CSI), bringing the number of community schools receiving CPS support to 55. Months later, Duncan pledged to provide funding to all Chicago charter schools interested in becoming community schools that agreed to implement the Chicago model. 
Separately, the Polk Bros. Foundation agreed to provide funding to convert high schools in the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative to community schools. By the spring of 2005, Chicago had achieved its goal of starting 100 community schools in five years -- two years ahead of schedule.
Chicago Coalition for Community Schools
On a parallel path and designed to offer professional development support, knowledge-sharing, and networking opportunities, the Chicago Coalition for Community Schools was formed in 2002 as the Campaign began to take shape. Its membership included nonprofits leading community school work as well as a diverse set of stakeholders including philanthropies and families. Members met monthly to learn about each other’s work, explore best practices and share resources, and CPS and those involved in the Campaign participated.
The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration
In order to ensure a deep talent pool for community schools, JPMorgan Chase awarded $1 million to The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA) in 2004 to establish the first-ever graduate program to prepare social workers to serve in community schools as resource coordinators and in other leadership positions. 
SSA staff partnered with CPS and the Campaign to guide professional development reaching out to individuals working in community schools who were not part of its graduate program, and, together with CPS and the Campaign, co-sponsored conferences that brought community school leaders from across the country to Chicago to share their experiences.
Federation for Community Schools
All of this development work, collaboration and partnership served to strengthen and institutionalize the presence of community schools in the district and for all involved. In 2007, as the Campaign was coming to an end, district representatives, Campaign leaders, and SSA staff, concerned about sustaining CPS’s existing community schools and generating support for new ones, joined leaders of the Chicago Coalition for Community Schools to form the Federation for Community Schools
Illinois House Bill 684
The Federation is a separate 501c3 organization charged with spearheading advocacy efforts across the state of Illinois to sustain and increase funding for community schools and providing professional development to increase their quality. The Federation took the lead in crafting, which was signed into law in August 2009, that amended the Illinois School Code to codify community schools and provide the option for a dedicated state funding stream and an infrastructure through which state funding would flow.
In partnership with its members, the Federation works to develop tools to encourage effective partnerships and advocate for resources. It also created a best-practices model called the community school "Parthenon," which focuses on four key ‘pillars’ of community school programming: academics, health, family engagement and community involvement and outlines activities associated with each.


How it works
As stated, CPS decided to use the lead agency model, piloted in Chicago by the Polk Bros. Foundation, during the Campaign to Expand Community Schools. In this model, lead agencies typically employ a ful

Involvement in the Elev8 Initiative

In 2007, Atlantic Philanthropies included Chicago in its national Elev8 Initiative. The organization provided funding to five CPS schools to partner with lead agencies associated with the MacArthur Foundation’s New Communities Program (NCP) in order to establish community schools geared toward the needs of middle grades students and their families. Each Elev8 community school has an onsite health clinic that serves students, their families, and community members, in addition to providing out-of-school time programs and family supports. Chicago’s Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) manages the project and contracts with the Federation for Community Schools to lead advocacy efforts. The Elev8 experience has enabled Chicago to engage community development corporations, poverty alleviation and children’s advocacy organizations, and school-based health care providers in providing programs and services at Chicago public schools to reduce students’ barriers to learning and increase parent engagement.
l-time Resource Coordinator at each school. The coordinator is responsible for engaging parents, teachers and community members; supervising enrichment opportunities offered at their school; mobilizing other community partners; and ensuring that programs offered before and after school support what happens during the academic day. Each school also has an advisory group that includes the lead agency, school staff, parents, community residents and students. The advisory group is responsible for crafting the vision of the community school and securing programming for the community school.

CPS first screens potential lead agencies. Principals, with help from CPS, then select the agency best-suited to lead the work with their schools. Lead agencies include an array of traditional social service organizations, community-based organizations, arts providers and higher education institutions. They bring expertise in youth development, child and family support, health care and community development know-how to schools across the district. Some organizations serve as the lead agency for multiple community schools and a number have adopted community schools as a core element of their own work and strategic plans. Examples of lead agencies include: the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Children’s Home and Aid, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, the YMCA of Greater Chicago, Metropolitan Family Services, SGA Youth and Family Services, and Youth Guidance among others.
Award-winning Initiative
As the work has evolved, so has the structure through which the district supports community schools. CPS’s Community School Initiative was originally housed in the Office of After School and Community School Programs in 2002, which later became the Office of Extended Learning Opportunities (OELO). It is now part of the Office of Academic Learning and Support in the Office of Pathways to College and Career. Regardless of which office it is housed, the CSI pulls together funding streams to facilitate the work of the community schools.  The outstanding work of CPS’ Community Schools Initiative (CSI) helped it garner the Coalition for Community Schools’ National Award for Excellence in 2006.
Professional development support provided
In addition to funding research and evaluation, CPS supports its community schools through annual professional development sessions and other technical assistance for site leadership. A regional professional development series for both school and agency personnel typically takes place three to four times per school year. These sessions assist in strategy development as well as report-outs by site personnel as these strategies are implemented. Series topics have included Student Recruitment and Retention, Parent Engagement, and Integrated Services. CPS uses evaluations and surveys to identify topics for professional development and brings in top speakers on each topic.
Financial woes spark reassessment
At its peak in 2009-2010, CPS supported 154 community schools with a mix of private and public dollars. Unfortunately, CPS has had to temporarily abandon its plan to make every school a community school due to the harsh economic climate. In addition, CPS decreased the number of community schools it funded to 140 in the 2010-2011school year, and expects to further decrease the number of community schools to just over 100 in FY12.
CPS is using this opportunity to reassess the model in order to identify the strongest elements of the strategy and work to improve the quality of its community schools. As part of this effort, CSI began to scale back by cutting non-Title I schools. From the remaining group, CSI then ranked each community school based on compliance with attendance procedures, unduplicated student attendees, unduplicated adult attendees, percent of total enrollment served, attendance rate, and number of weeks with programming. Schools also were scored and ranked on the following characteristics: 1) programs, 2) services and integration, 3) management, 4) governance and staffing, 5) parent/community involvement, and 6) partnerships. Rankings were combined for an overall score for each school, and those with the highest scores continued to receive funding. 
Support continues
There is anecdotal evidence that some of the schools no longer funded through CSI have continued to function as community schools, applying the principles and organizational infrastructure set forth by the initiative. While Chicago lost one of its most vocal advocates when Arne Duncan became U.S. Secretary of Education, community schools continue to garner broad support. Even during challenging economic times, the initiative is viewed by the district and community leaders as an essential strategy to support students and families. Chicago foundations and corporations continue to fund resource coordinator positions and programming through grants to lead agencies. 
Several foundations have focused on capacity building, making grants to lead agencies with multiple community schools to ensure each develops an effective infrastructure to support their work. The lead agencies themselves devote millions of dollars a year for programming beyond the CSI funding they receive. In turn, the CSI has developed the "CSI Implementation and Sustainability Process Strategy" (CSI-ISPS) as a means for community school personnel to continue to carry out the CPS Community School model efficiently and effectively regardless of the source(s) of financial support.
Strong mayoral support in a city where the mayor controls the schools is imperative. From its inception, CPS’s Community Schools Initiative was strongly endorsed by long-time Mayor Richard M. Daley, who highlighted community schools in his 2002 State of the City Address and at his Global Mayors Leadership Summit in 2009. 
In 2011, Chicago elected its first new mayor in more than 20 years. The Federation for Community Schools met with all of the mayoral candidates was able to secure support for CPS’ Community Schools Initiative from each of them. Newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made it known that his plans to increase learning time "include academic, arts and athletics programs beyond the traditional school day – building on the success of the community school model in place in some Chicago schools – and forging new, creative partnerships with community and civic organizations that extend the school day, week and year [emphasis added]."
Community schools remain an essential part of the Chicago’s school reform strategy, enjoy broad community support, and will continue to thrive in Chicago.


Additional Resources

  • Access in-depth case studies of Chicago community schools
  • History of Chicago community schools video





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