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Stage 1 Milestone 1: Convene Innovators

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Milestone #1: Convene Innovators 

Seattle, WA


 Nashville, TN


Some things to think about:

Innovators are people who see the value in a new idea and take the lead in helping others see its advantages. School superintendents, United Way and other non-profit officials, community leaders, government representatives, members of faith communities, college and university educators, and participants in similar initiatives are just some of the people who have led the way in the initiatives profiled in Part Three. Innovators also may be mid-level staff in various organizations who see the value of community schools and want to promote the concept to organizational leaders.

In many communities, innovators may already have worked together to develop one or more community schools or other collaborative efforts. In other cases, they will start from scratch. It is helpful to engage people who demonstrate the following:

  • A sense of urgency that communities need to do more to help children succeed
  • An ability to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty
  • A facility for working with others
  • Openness to new ideas

Provide an "open mike" for innovators to vent concerns about school outcomes. Brainstorm ideas about expanding community schools. Participants need an opportunity to get to know each other and to begin thinking not only about what their community needs but also about how they can work together. To build a strong foundation for future scale-up efforts, it is important to look for ways to:

  • Share leadership. Take turns hosting and facilitating each meeting. Make sure that all participants, including those who cannot tap organizational resources, have an opportunity to share leadership roles. Anticipate any special costs and discuss an equitable way to meet them. Assure participants that, at this stage, no long-term commitment is required.


  • Broaden perspectives. Organize field trips to community schools, show videos about community schools, and invite students, staff, parents, and others to talk about the changes they envision. Encourage stakeholders to share personal and organizational stories about why community schools and scale-up interest them.


  • Dream big. Ask a variety of big-picture questions. What would I want a full-fledged system of community schools in my community to look like? What might some of the possible results be? The idea is to generate enthusiasm and to think as broadly and expansively as possible.


  • Acknowledge self-interest. Throughout the early stages, participants—including school districts—need to voice their concerns about community schools, recognize their advantages, and work through both personal and organizational costs and benefits. Separate, facilitated conversations at the site, organizational, and system levels may make it easier for stakeholders to speak candidly.


  • Encourage honest, shared exploration. Look for common ground, but disclose concerns. Most concerns will not be deal breakers, and many will be resolved as participants continue to share information. Fully voicing any remaining concerns—and keeping them on the group’s radar screen—will help manage any potentially negative effects.


  • Acknowledge power differentials. Differences in relative power, expectations, and expertise among partners represent a major hurdle for many collaborative efforts. Anticipate these differences and begin early to mitigate them.

While sustainable community schools strategies inevitably demand leadership from several organizations and agencies, they can begin with the vision of an individual superintendent or other community leader. Finding and engaging that leader can be the work of community schools advocates at different levels, as demonstrated by experience in Chicago (click on the magnifying glass icon below to read more about Chicago).



The Polk Bros. Foundation led the way in community schools development in Chicago, funding three pilot sites in 1996 with encouraging results. When Arne Duncan became CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, the Polk Bros. Foundation, with the support of other funders, played a lead role in convening a group of philanthropic and community leaders to convince Duncan to scale up the community schools strategy. Together, they committed to the Chicago Campaign to Expand Community Schools to organize 100 community schools in Chicago over a seven-year period. A group of foundations underwrote the initial planning and development work and funded individual community schools; the school system matched city funds to support the first 38 schools. The campaign achieved its seven-year goal; today, Chicago boasts over 140 community schools. Following on the heels of the Chicago Campaign, the Federation for Community Schools, an Illinois collaboration, was organized to advocate for community schools across Illinois.


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Guide Home - IntroductionPart I - Part II - Part III - Part IV - Appendix - Tools

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