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Superintendent Leadership Advances Community School Strategy

As more communities embrace the vision of a scaled-up system of community schools, perhaps one of the most vital leadership positions in laying out the plans and goals come from the guidance of the school district’s chief – the superintendent.
This can seem to be a daunting task given the political climate. But many superintendents are coming to see the community schools strategy as a way to provide the resources and support they know that their students and families need to succeed.   
While community school initiatives have typically been started by the community and brought to the district, new initiatives are demonstrating that the superintendent is well-positioned to lay out a vision and garner the political will to carry out an effective and successful community school strategy. Either way, it is critical that both the school district and its community partners work together through implementation based on a culture of collective trust and action to achieve collective impact.
The uniqueness and benefit of the community schools approach is that leadership is not top heavy like many school programs. Rather, this approach calls for a collaborative leadership structure where essential responsibilities are distributed among partners, an intermediary, and school-site leadership groups. The community-wide leadership table includes the district and partners from government, nonprofit organizations, unions, philanthropies, business, faith-based organizations, and others who are responsible for the vision, policy, support, and financing for the initiative.
Superintendents in Action
Dr. Cathy Burden, superintendent of Union Public Schools in Tulsa, has set the vision to make every elementary school within the Union district a community school and is supporting that vision by using Title I dollars to pay for new coordinators. Support from the district has helped Roy Clark Elementary and its Principal Theresa Kiger make gains in state Average Yearly Progress scores, increase participation in parent-teacher conferences to 100 percent, and win the 2011 National Community Schools Award for Excellence.
Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith is leading reform of the long-troubled Bay Area school system by rolling out a plan to transform every district school into a community school (Learn more). Smith’s vision for the school system, which was strongly supported by the school board, has led to praise from local and national media and increased optimism from local education advocates.
Dr. Jesse Register, superintendent for Metro Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee, recognized the effectiveness of integrating coordinated community partnerships being integrated into their schools and is working to implement community schools district-wide. Register promoted Tony Majors, then-principal of their award-winning community school Glencliff High, to implement the community school strategy across the entire system. 
What Superintendents can do
Burden, Smith, and Register have demonstrated that district leadership can transform the dynamics of district-community relationships so that all children and families have the opportunities and the resources to be successful.
Superintendents bring significant financial, human, organizational, and political capacity to a community school initiative. Once a community collaborative, that includes the superintendent, creates and refines their shared vision for a system of community schools, the superintendent is uniquely-positioned to convey those goals and plans to lawmakers and other leaders in the community. They can ensure that school policies and practices are aligned with the community school strategy.
Superintendents from around the country that have rallied around the community school strategy recently formed a peer network to share resources, strategize on policy decisions, and impart success stories from their work implementing community partnerships in their schools. The network is a joint venture between the Coalition for Community Schools and the American Association of School Administrators.  
If you’re a superintendent or school district director interested in joining the Coalition’s Superintendent Leadership Council, please contact Shital C. Shah at
Communities Participating in the Superintendent Leadership Council:


City, State
School District
Tucson, Arizona
Flowing Wells Unified School District
Oakland, California
Oakland Unified School District
Redwood City, California
Redwood City School District
San Francisco, California
San Francisco Unified School District
Emeryville, California
Emeryville Unified School District
San Rafael, California
San Rafael City Schools
San Jose, California
Franklin McKinley SD
Gainsville, Georgia
Gainsville City Schools
Peoria, Illinois
Peoria Public School District 150
Evansville, Indiana
Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation
Wyoming, Michigan
Godwin Heights Public Schools
Brooklyn, Minnesota
Brooklyn Center Schools
Independence, Missouri
Independence School Public School District
Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln Public Schools
Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati Public Schools
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Union Public Schools
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Tulsa Public Schools
Portland, Oregon
Reynolds School District
Bangor, Pennsylvania
Bangor Area School District
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Bethlehem Area School District
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
School District of Lancaster
Ogden, Utah
Ogden School District
Seattle, Washington
Seattle Public Schools
Seattle, Washington
Puget Sound Educational Service District


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