Increased government funding recognizes the need for strong community school technical assistance

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“The U.S. Department of Education recently announced a notice inviting applications for the Full-Service Community Schools Program to provide high-quality academic, integrated health and social service, and engagement support for all students. The grant program continues to reflect steady increases in the federal appropriations process from an initial $5 million in fiscal year 2009, to $25 million in 2020, $30 million in 2021, $75 million in 2022, and a proposed substantial increase of $468 million in 2023. The exponential growth in investments signals a consistent interest and confidence in community school strategies as a powerful approach to whole-child educational transformation of schools and communities. Similarly, dedicated state funding opportunities in MarylandNew York, and California reflect a growing body of evidence from decades of implementation expertise about how community school strategies—when supported and sustained—can leverage the assets and voices of the full community to support student success.

The Community Schools Forward national task force welcomes this support of community schools as a strategy to increase youth and community voice, ensure rigorous community-connected instruction, extend learning opportunities and improve school climate, health, and mental health, and college and post-secondary student outcomes. The task force recognizes that while funding is necessary to continue to accelerate the growth of community schools, increasing it alone will not directly result in effective community school partnerships and strategies. High-quality technical assistance must be provided to practitioners. The task force project team developed a national needs assessment to gain a clearer picture of what type of community school technical assistance is needed across the country.

What does community school technical assistance entail?

The Children’s Aid National Center for Community Schools (NCCS) is a practice-based technical assistance provider that has supported the startup, scaling, and sustainability of community school initiatives across the country and internationally, NCCS has seen what happens with (and without) strong and consistent guidance and capacity building. We define technical assistance as the process of building the capacity of community school stakeholders to start, scale, and sustain transformational community schools. Informed by a comprehensive needs and assets assessment and guided by a plan jointly developed with the client, technical assistance includes organizing communities of action, facilitating connections, and providing the relevant tools and skills.

In early 2022, in anticipation of technical assistance needs of new and developing community school practitioners, NCCS—in partnership with the Brookings Institution, the Learning Policy Institute, and the Coalition for Community Schools—conducted an assessment of community school practitioners and experts to gauge emerging needs and best practices in implementing community schools and technical assistance. The findings of our inquiry provide important guidance for the Full-Service Community Schools program and other initiatives focused on expanding and deepening effective community school strategies. In our report, “Community Schools Forward: Technical assistance needs assessment,” we summarize the findings of a national study exploring community school technical assistance needs and assets and recommend that technical assistance providers prioritize:

  • Model clarity for all stakeholders – ensuring all stakeholders have the same conceptual understanding of community schools and their role within the model.
  • Structures and systems for community voices – developing mechanisms that invite democratic processes within a community school.
  • Structures and systems for collaborative leadership – systems and processes that reinforce distributed leadership and collaborative decision-making.
  • Asset-based thinking – cultivating a perspective that focuses on the strengths of the students, families, and community.
  • Sustainability – navigating braided funding and “telling the story” to public and private funders in a way that accurately reflects the work; developing a model or network that is supported by the community and leadership, and not vulnerable to leadership changes.
  • Reimagining systems for equity – reviewing existing school processes and structures to determine if the current approach is meeting all student, family, and community needs. Changing those systems that are not meeting the needs of all stakeholders.
  • Data systems – developing systems for data collection and analysis that capture accurate data that is connected to identified outcomes and is aligned with a logic model.
  • Data culture and continuous improvement – creating a positive and collaborative environment where problems can be identified and solved using data and inquiry.”

Read the full story here.

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