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Stage 1 Milestone 2: Assess Readiness

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Milestone #2: Assess Readiness 

Nashville, TN

 Indianapolis, IN

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Some things to think about:

A main objective of Stage 1 is to determine your community’s initial readiness for scale-up and to identify areas of strength and weakness. To what extent can the scale-up effort draw on the strategic leadership, existing infrastructure and management functions, technical and financial resources, staff, and networks of other groups and agencies? Are people ready for change? Pay attention to both the external environment in which scale-up will occur and the internal, organizational environments that will influence the direction and energy of scale-up efforts.

Know what is involved. A systemic community schools expansion is no small undertaking. Take time to consider the characteristics of effective scale-up presented in Part Two so that all participants have a realistic view of what is involved. Upfront agreement on the importance of each characteristic will make it easier for members to work together in succeeding stages.

Gather the facts. The "Assessing Readiness: Questions to Help You Get Started" box can help guide conversations and evaluate readiness. Assessments should be honest, confidential, and extend over several sessions. Reasonable give and take should be encouraged so that everyone can accept the group’s answers. However, answers need not be exhaustive, and it is not necessary to delve into issues that address organizational costs and conflicting ideas about how to move forward. The same topics of leadership, commitment, and other characteristics of a sustainable system will be considered in more depth as the scale-up process evolves.

Assessing Readiness: Questions to Help You Start

  • What’s the need? What do the data (disaggregated by race, gender, school district, and neighborhood) say about children’s readiness for school and their performance in school? Does performance vary across the community?

  • Demographic shifts. What do recent data reveal about the changing face of the student population in your school district? Are you ready for change?

  • Current community schools activity. How many schools in your district define themselves as a community school or by some similar name? Can you identify community partners already working with schools that may participate in a community schools scale-up?

  • What’s working? In what ways have existing schools succeeded? What would other schools like to replicate?

  • Leadership and constituency. To what extent are high-level leaders in the district and in the public, private, and non-profit sectors aware of community schools? What constituent and special interest groups could be mobilized to encourage district-wide support? Are there individual school board members or other local elected officials who might be especially responsive to the community schools approach?

  • School system capacity and commitment. Does your district encourage creativity, support innovation, and seek external resources? Does it have a policy governing relationships with community partners? How is the district organized to connect with community partners? Does your district have an office of community partnerships?

  • Collaborative strength. What has been your district’s and community’s involvement in collaborative initiatives? Have the efforts been positive, lasting? Which of the initiatives still exist? Could they help convene a community schools conversation?

  • Related initiatives. What groups in the community are engaged in work related to community schools? Is there a P-20 Council, a mayor’s cabinet or cross-sector group, or an after-school, school-based health clinic, mental health clinic, mentoring, or other type of programmatic network? How might they be a resource for a community schools strategy?

  • Political and economic context. What conditions in your community might argue for the development of a community school? How can you highlight the benefits of community schools to address the realities of your current situation?



The COMPASS community schools initiative in Pennsylvania’s Greater Lehigh Valley spans two counties and three school districts and serves 12 schools. Functioning as an intermediary, the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley works with several lead agencies and has built partnerships with leaders in the business community, medical/health community, local family centers, preschools and daycare centers, after-school programs, and higher education community service departments, among others. Nearby districts—both urban and rural—have expressed interest in making similar community services available in their schools. The United Way chapter and its partners are excited about the possibility of sizeable expansion. At the same time, they realize that they need to expand intentionally and assess their own readiness before they launch a regional scale-up. Are the appropriate people at the table? What new challenges will arise with implementation in rural areas? What commitments are school districts willing to make? What changes in leadership need to be addressed? Partners are looking at these issues and taking appropriate steps. For example, to encourage continuing commitment in a district that will be hiring a new superintendent, community schools leaders met with school board members to suggest questions to ask candidates in order to evaluate their support for community schools expansion.


The emergence of the Providence (Rhode Island) Full-Service Schools Initiative is partly the result of an effort to build on and connect with five ongoing initiatives. Between 2001 and 2007, the United Way’s Community School-RI initiative funded four middle school demonstrations in four Rhode Island cities. Supported by the Rhode Island Department of Education, Child Opportunity Zones (COZ) provide families with improved access to services in and near schools. The Afterzones Initiative, led by the Providence Afterschool Alliance, has helped build a citywide system to support and sustain high-quality after-school programs, and, since 2000, the Casey Foundation’s Making Connections Initiative has worked to expand family economic and early grade school success in three Providence neighborhoods. In response to these initiatives, the Providence Public Schools crafted its full-service community schools strategy and started with funding from a federal Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS) grant in partnership with local community-based organization Dorcas Place Family Services.

Now that the superintendent of the Providence Public Schools (PPS) has hired Rebecca Boxx, former Dorcas Place program director, as the director of Full-Service Community Schools for PPS, Boxx is drawing on her Dorcas Place experience to develop a comprehensive and sustainable community schools strategy. She is developing institutional buy-in from district leaders, engaging leaders from related initiatives, and working through the Mayor’s Cabinet, which brings together leaders of several agencies and institutions.


In 1998, elected and community leaders in Multnomah County, Oregon, were searching for ways to address critical issues and rebuild the fabric of the county’s communities. A Community Building Initiative convened by the County with representatives from the city of Portland, the state, and business and community organizations articulated two clear goals: supporting education and improving the delivery of resources for students and their families. At the same time, parallel ideas were emerging in a city-led After-School Cabinet and from the community itself, as several school principals were opening their doors to community partners and advocating for public support of promising efforts.

With the convergence of ideas from different constituencies, the various leaders and innovators created a joint committee across the two groups in order to harmonize plans in the design of a single shared model. After research, visits to other cities, and much discussion, the leaders agreed to a community schools strategy as the most advisable way to address community building and after-school risk concerns. Thus, what is now a 60-site community school effort involving six school districts was born. The city and county invested public dollars in community schools as a vehicle to further their own missions, and leaders from the Community Building Initiative Sponsor Group became the core leadership group that drove the development of the first eight SUN Community Schools.

The initial phase of the SUN Community Schools gained the considerable support of policymakers, principals, and parents. Demand for additional community schools grew rapidly. Despite tough financial times, local leaders began to look to expand the effort. In the first few years, the number of sites grew from 8 to 19 through grants and alignment of similar school-based efforts into the community schools model. On the county end, a thorough analysis and planning exercise in 2002–2003 led leaders to conclude that it would be more effective and efficient to redirect existing funds allocated to fragmented family and youth programs into one aligned service system. The shift was part of a comprehensive retooling of the county’s youth and family service system into the SUN Service System, with community schools at the heart of that system. That planning effort set the stage for the phase-in of an additional 41 SUN Community Schools over the past eight years.



Close this box.


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Evaluate your findings. Do the facts point to sufficient community desire and organizational capacity to build a large-scale system of community schools? If not, look at the areas in which capacity seems weakest and consider steps that could improve readiness in those areas. If the current political and economic context is not favorable, consider how you might keep interest alive until the environment changes. The profiles in Part Four show how some communities formulated plans to move forward.



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

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