Coalition for Community Schools - Because Every Child Deserves Every Chance

Stage 4 Milestone 2

Stage 1 | Stage 2 | Stage 3 | Stage 4 | Stage 5 | Stage 6

MILESTONES:
BUILD POLITICAL CAPACITY

Brooklyn Center, MN
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STAGE 4: PLAN FOR SUSTAINABILITY
Milestone #2: Build Political Capacity


Some things to think about:

Political capacity refers to the willingness and skills of people to take the action needed to achieve agreed-upon results—in this case, a scaled-up system of community schools. Stage 4 activities accelerate the growth of political capacity within schools and across neighborhoods.

Develop site teams, the core of site-level implementation. School-site teams must consider how the principles of community schools can help schools achieve their mission. If some school sites have not yet assembled site teams, the relevant principals and site leaders might benefit from assistance in organizing such a team. The participation of school and community partner staff, families, residents, and students builds personal, organizational, and neighborhood support for community schools. Members work to:

  • Identify issues
  • Select a set of priority results as their main focus
  • Plan and implement activities aligned with the curriculum and school improvement plan in order to make measurable progress
  • Revise their work for continuous improvement

Support activities that provide roles for families and community residents. The initiative’s results-based logic model—and the tailored versions of the model to be developed by school sites in Stage 5— should specify activities that are designed to build on families’ strengths and engage families in decision making about their child’s learning. It is essential to tap networks in which parents and community members are already connected (e.g., community organizing groups, faith-based organizations) and to seek new people and connections.

Listen more, talk less. Parents and residents bring to community schools an essential and diverse set of cultural and personal strengths, perspectives, and knowledge. Find ways for parents and community members to share what they know about their community and its challenges and to craft solutions that work for them. It is essential that community schools not replicate traditional parent education groups that tell parents what planners believe they need to know. Ultimately, parents and community members are the central players in advocacy efforts to scale up and sustain community schools. Policymakers will want to hear from them about how community schools are making the difference in their lives and the lives of their children.
Parent participation succeeds when it involves the following:

  • Broad outreach
  • Honest respect
  • An open-door policy
  • An emphasis on action

Develop champions. A scaled-up system of community schools needs a host of champions. School superintendents, United Way chapters, local government agencies and CBOs, principals and teachers, and community members are just some of the leaders who began their community schools work as innovators. Now viewed as champions, they can open minds and move the community.

In addition, other champions must be cultivated to ensure sustainability. Look for leaders at the community level—in the school system, higher education institutions, business and civic organizations—and in neighborhoods—in family and community organizations and faith-based institutions. Often a personal experience or one-to-one contact with a community schools advocate can convince a potential champion about the merits of a scale-up initiative and draw that individual’s participation in advancing community schools.

Champions are typically highly motivated self-starters, but not all champions have the time to participate in a new venture. The following approaches may prove useful in motivating champions to participate on an ad hoc basis and eventually become fully engaged in your initiative:

  • Identify champions’ skills, resources, and interests
  • Specify what you need; potential champions can tell you how they can help
  • Recognize the critical value of their efforts
  • Provide feedback
  • Ask for their observations and input
  • Invite additional contributions

Reach out and communicate. Communicating with the leadership networks of the community schools initiative, maintaining contact with leaders of other institutions, and keeping the public apprised of progress are other essential elements of building political capacity. When Evansville decided to propose a major bond issue to fund its community schools initiative, it engaged the support of the entire community.


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KNOW THE QUESTIONS; FIND THE ANSWERS

Unambiguous communication is essential. Straightforward answers promote confidence and encourage buy-in. In Cincinnati, Ohio, before deciding to participate in the community schools initiative, prospective community partners wanted basic information about their likely roles and responsibilities. According to leaders in Cincinnati, common questions included the following:

  • Will the district support school hours that expand the traditional school day?
  • Will services be available to the larger community?
  • Will on-site space be available to partners? Who or what will cover rent and overhead?
  • Will partners at the site level be selected by community members or by the district?
  • What financial plans are in place to sustain the initiative both system-wide and at individual sites?

THE VALUE OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

In 2003, a $70 million referendum to support public education in Evansville, Indiana, failed by a three-to-one margin. To turn that figure around, a determined superintendent decided that the district needed to make a stronger case for community schools. He also gave the community an opportunity to buy into the initiative and express its concerns. At the same time, he reached out to the business and labor communities and met regularly with their representatives to build mutual respect and trust. Five years later, 71 percent of Evansville’s registered voters passed a $140 million referendum in support of community schools. Says Superintendent Vince Bertram, "The community has stepped up because it’s no longer ‘us versus them.’ We all share responsibility for our kids."

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Effective strategies at every stage of the 6-point process involve carefully targeted communications:

  • Publish a brief newsletter. Particularly at an initiative’s outset, a newsletter is a simple and useful vehicle for describing the activities and achievements of community schools. Hard data lend themselves to future reports and stories.
  • Reach out to the media. The local education reporter and the publisher of the newspaper and its editorial board will likely be interested in your story. Make your case clearly and passionately. Provide opportunities for visits to school sites and for conversations with teachers and parents.
  • Connect with local civic and business groups. Kiwanis, Lions, Jacks and Jills, Chambers of Commerce, and other business groups are often interested in education issues and may be receptive to your story.
  • Develop a web site for the initiative. High school and college students might assist with the design and maintenance of a web site while intermediary staff and leaders provide the content.
  • Produce a video. The story of a community school makes a compelling video. High school students or members of youth organizations might be persuaded to produce a video about the initiative.

 

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CONTINUING EXPANSION IN MULTNOMAH COUNTY

In 2003, a $70 million referendum to support public education in Evansville, Indiana, failed by a three-to-one margin. To turn that figure around, a determined superintendent decided that the district needed to make a stronger case for community schools. He also gave the community an opportunity to buy into the initiative and express its concerns. At the same time, he reached out to the business and labor communities and met regularly with their representatives to build mutual respect and trust. Five years later, 71 percent of Evansville’s registered voters passed a $140 million referendum in support of community schools. Says Superintendent Vince Bertram, "The community has stepped up because it’s no longer ‘us versus them.’ We all share responsibility for our kids."

 

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

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