It is nearly impossible to imagine that, in just three years, a school that had experienced a dropout rate of 84 percent by grade 10 managed to transform itself into a school with a graduation rate of 100 percent. But that is the story of Cincinnati’s Oyler Community Learning Center
, which is one in a system of community schools that has helped raise the citywide graduation rate from 51 percent in 2000 to 83 percent in 2009. With the school board’s 2002 commitment to make every school a community school, Cincinnati has built citywide structures that foster the collaborative provision of high-quality learning opportunities and supports for students. Cincinnati is one of dozens of communities across the country that is scaling up a system of community schools.
Why? In simplest terms, the community schools strategy provides a coherent framework for all children to succeed in college, career, and life. More pragmatically, in today’s test-oriented school culture, an effective community school offers the opportunities that all children deserve and helps remove barriers to learning; it ensures a foundation for principals to lead, teachers to teach, and students to learn.
A thriving system of community schools focuses joint community and school resources on student success. Making that happen at scale is the subject of this guide.
Dr. Jerry Weast, former superintendent of the Montgomery County, Maryland schools, emphasizes that change is about creating structures and cultures that advance change. That notion applies here. Typically, some structures need to be put in place to support a system of community schools, but, unless a culture is in place to support all children, community schooling efforts will fall short of their goals.
The community schools strategy can have its broadest, deepest, and most sustainable impact when a school system and all of its community partners use the strategy in many schools. A multisite effort embeds the vision of a community school in the principles and practices, beliefs, and expectations of its schools, partner agencies, families, and community members. As the effort scales up, the community schools vision becomes the new culture. In that new culture, individuals and organizations alike share the work, responsibilities, and benefits of improved results for children, families, schools, and communities.
There is no one path for advancing a community schools agenda. Sometimes a citywide organization such as a United Way chapter, a county or city, a non-profit agency, or a school district steps up to create an opportunity for collaboration and provides an anchor presence in a set of schools. Often, a local community school serves as a template for expansion. Many schools already operate with some of the typical elements of a community school—after-school programs, health and mental health services, parent leadership, service learning, a preschool program, a tutoring or mentoring program, and/or adult education programs—but they do not undertake such activities with the explicit goal of fostering synergy among partners and the school to achieve better results. This guide helps you determine your current status, work from your assets, and build toward your shared vision of a system of community schools.
A scaled-up system of community schools refers to a vertical network of schools from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in a single attendance area with all schools linked horizontally across one or more school districts. What does it take to build a scaled-up system of community schools? That is the question posed by school leaders, service providers, and government officials around the country as they come to appreciate the value and importance of community schools.
Scaling Up School and Community Partnerships: The Community Schools Strategy builds on both practice and research to describe the what, why, and how of system-wide expansion of community schools. The guide is written for a wide audience and for communities at different points in planning for, implementing, and sustaining a community schools strategy. It targets grass-roots advocates, including parents, students, teachers, and community partners; school district, civic, business, and government leaders; and funders at the local, state, and national levels.
For those whose efforts focus primarily on establishing individual schools, Scaling Up School and Community Partnerships provides an opportunity to think about why and how to take on a scale-up effort. Others with no earlier involvement in community schools leadership will be encouraged to consider the logic of community schools and see the value of beginning with a systems approach.
The guide is organized as follows:
- Part One lays out the rationale for a community schools strategy. It describes what a community school looks like and its advantages over traditional schools.
- Part Two describes the essential characteristics of an effective scaled-up system of community schools. It draws on systems theory to help think about how complex organizations such as community schools work and suggests a framework for creating the culture and functional capacity needed to create and sustain a scaled-up system.
- Part Three outlines a 6-stage spiraling strategic process to help schools and communities steer their scale-up work.
- Part Four tells the scale-up story of selected communities, permitting readers to see the spiraling process in action.
Brief sketches from the field illustrate specific stages, barriers to progress, and solutions and are represented by this symbol:
Various tools are referenced throughout the text; the tools are accessible with a simple click and are also presented in the Tools section as well.