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Part Two: A Framework for Scale-Up



In simple terms, "scale-up" means adapting an innovation—such as community schools—for widespread and supported application, with the goal of producing robust, meaningful, agreed-upon outcomes. In the case of community schools, it requires much more than simply increasing the number of community schools. The critical challenge is to find ways to create many community schools across one or more school districts and to develop structures with sufficient capacity to sustain, expand, and continuously improve community schools networks.

Part Two presents some basic facts about how systems operate and emphasizes the importance of attending to both culture and structure in systems change efforts. It outlines the characteristics of a successfully scaled-up system, including shared ownership, spread, depth, and sustainability. Based on extensive field experience, we present a Collaborative Leadership Structure to show how leadership roles and responsibilities may be distributed to build a community schools culture and the functional capacity needed to create and sustain such a scaled-up system. A Systems Benchmark Chart defines what must be in place for a scaled-up community school initiative to succeed.


A system is a collection of parts that interact and function as a whole. Systems consist of elements and interconnections; they have a purpose, and they exist within a political, social, and cultural context. Infrastructure refers to a system’s basic features. It forms the base or foundation of a system and consists of the structural elements that support the entire enterprise.

Systems exist everywhere. A system may be a hard-wired physical organization such as a computer, or it may be a social, relationship-based organization such as a community school. In either case, a central tenet in systems thinking is that all parts of a system are interdependent. They are composed of numerous feedback loops that interact at several levels rather than in a strictly linear arrangement. The relationships form a complex, layered web.

Given the nature of systems structures, actions affecting one part of the system often do not produce orderly, predictable results. Tugging on one part of the web is likely to cause unanticipated reactions elsewhere in the system. Effectively changing a system requires an awareness of how the various parts of the system work together and the leverage points most likely to produce desired change. Integrated action across several functional areas is needed to move and sustain complex organizations. These two insights are fundamental to systems understanding—whether change takes the form of a solution to a specific problem within a system or aims to scale up community schools.

Attempts at systems change fail when there is a misalignment between assumptions about systems operations and how systems work in practice. Change agents often focus on the most obvious elements of the system they want to change by, for example, latching on to a "silver bullet" that calls for reorganizing their governing board, enacting new policies, or spending more money. All of these modifications may be important, but change agents mistakenly assume that anyone of these isolated adjustments will produce system-wide change. Many initiatives expect improvement to come from simply working harder, forgetting Einstein’s definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

Still another insight derived from systems thinking suggests that the most important dimension of system operations is the one most frequently overlooked—a system’s operating culture. Culture includes the values, expectations, and tacit assumptions that drive behavior and practice throughout the system and shape the system’s ability to achieve its purpose. While this controlling paradigm is less obvious than the other dimensions, it is, in fact, often the most crucial determinant of system change.

Part One stressed that the time-tested effectiveness of a community schools strategy is based on a culture that fosters collective trust and promotes a set of core principles built around high expectations for schools and students, the potential strengths of family and community, and the development of the whole child. Without question, the change required for permanently transforming traditional schools into a district-wide system of community schools will occur only if the principles of community schools are deeply embedded in collaborative leadership structures and a culture of collaboration.



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

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