Community Schools: Connected to What Matters
By James Stoffer and Zach Vander Veen
Children do not exist in a vacuum. Community schooling encourages student wellbeing, teacher health and wellbeing, all in place to allow academic achievement and opportunity for students, their families and their communities.
In part one of this article series, we made the case for community schools. In a nutshell, Community Schooling is a concept that has been around for more than 30 years. The concept has steadily been coalescing, gaining ground, and now represents some 5000 schools in the United States, out of more than 130,000 public and private schools, or just under four percent.
In part two of the article series, we discussed many states and districts, like California among them, who is proposing a community schools solution to not only alleviate challenges presented by the pandemic, but to “be an effective approach to mitigate the academic and social impacts of current events, improve school responsiveness to student and family needs, and to organize school and community resources to address barriers to learning.”
In part three, we looked at the necessary technology to power a modern community school. In essence, community schools will need to do something that has been lacking in education institutions – they will need to utilize technology at its highest, most efficient and effective level. Think of an Amazon or an Uber taking this on as a pet project. In the same way that Amazon is not a retail company but a logistics company that sells retail products, schools will need to become logistics organizations that deliver education, health and wellbeing, and other necessary services to children and their families. It’s a different mindset, but one that is eminently feasible in today’s technologically connected world.
States like California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New York, New Mexico, and Vermont and others are devoting significant resources to community schools, along with a proposed $400 million to the federal Full-Service Community School grant program, as a way to connect existing community resources to those for which the resources were intended. Think of the community schooling movement as an ultra-high-tech clearinghouse on steroids.
In fact, according to the California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP), “To meet the current moment, it is important not to view community schools as one initiative among many that are currently being funded in California districts, but rather as an equity-enhancing strategy that aligns with and can help coordinate and extend a wide range of state, school, and district initiatives. This includes large state investments in youth-focused behavioral health, nutrition, universal preschool, and expanded learning, as well as ongoing efforts involving Multi-Tiered System of Supports, social-emotional learning, college and career readiness, and ultimately, the Statewide System of Support for school improvement.”
The four pillars of success
To successfully realize their desired outcomes, the CCSPP as well as other organizations working to ensure success in community schooling, utilize four established community school pillars. These pillars include:
- Integrated student supports, which can support student success by meeting their academic, physical, social-emotional, and mental health needs. Statute defines this as including the “coordination of trauma-informed health, mental health, and social services.” Effectively supporting students also requires that students be well known so that they can be well served.
- Family and community engagement, which involves actively tapping the expertise and knowledge of family and community members to serve as true partners in supporting and educating students. Statute defines this as including “home visits, home-school collaboration, [and] culturally responsive community partnerships.” Learning opportunities for family members as well as structures and opportunities for shared leadership are other important elements of authentic family engagement.
- Collaborative leadership and practices for educators and administrators that establish a culture of professional learning, collective trust, and shared responsibility for outcomes in a manner that includes students, families, and community members. Statute defines this as including “professional development to transform school culture and climate that centers on pupil learning and supports mental and behavioral health, trauma-informed care, Social Emotional Learning [and] restorative justice.”
- Extended learning time and opportunities that include academic support, enrichment, and real-world learning opportunities (e.g., internships, project-based learning). Statute refers to these opportunities as both “extended learning” and “expanded learning” and defines them as including “before and after school care and summer programs.” Expanded learning opportunities can also include tutoring and other learning supports during school hours.
A shared committment
In a California Teachers Association blog by Julian Peeples, the author states, “The community schools model is aimed at disrupting poverty and addressing long-standing inequities, highlighting areas of need, and leveraging community resources so students are healthy, prepared for college and ready to succeed. A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources with an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, leadership, and community engagement, leading to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.
“Since each community school is centered around local needs and priorities, no two look exactly alike. But they all share a commitment to partnership and rethinking how best to provide the resources students and families need.”
Data is crucial
In standards for community schools established by the Institute for Educational Leadership, Data systems and protocols are in place to assure access to relevant individual and aggregate information and to assure transparency of decision-making. This means:
• School uses a data system, and all staff and partners are trained to use it.
• Coordinator and partners have access to school data (including student-level data).
• Student and school-level data reports are reviewed by the Site-Based Leadership Team and multidisciplinary teams.
Policies and procedures are in place to safeguard student and family confidentiality.
• Data sharing and use agreements conform to legal requirements.
• Students and families sign data release forms.
• School handbook describes data use for families and students.
Interdisciplinary teams, with the assistance of the community school coordinator, use data to prioritize resources and prepare individualized plans to make sure every student gets the opportunities and supports they need.
• Team meeting agendas regularly include review of data.
• Response is differentiated based on data (e.g., response to intervention, multi-tiered system of support).
Agreements are in place to share student data, including services being provided to individual students among school personnel, community school coordinators and community partners. Individual student data, participant feedback, and aggregate outcomes are analyzed regularly by the site leadership team to assess program quality and progress and develop strategies for improvement.
When a community school is juggling hundreds of community partners, it’s crucial to be able to quickly and easily see the impact that partners’ programs are having on the learning community. By bringing all partners into one place, a community school can do just that — while saving valuable time and resources that would have been spent tracking and compiling data manually between siloed information.
Also, by integrating student data, schools can pinpoint influencing factors tied to higher levels of student engagement. With family permission, community partners can view important components of a student profile such as learning inventories, academics, behavior, portfolios, and education plans. Knowing the full, real-time picture of a student provides the foundation for partners to create engaging programs that truly help the student.
One of the major goals of community partnerships is to help students develop the skills they need to be more successful both in and out of school. Being able to link community program involvement with higher student success rates now allows schools to better allocate resources and make a bigger impact in their students’ lives.
In our last installment, we’ll look at the lessons learned from the implementation of community schools, and how every school can benefit from the community schools movement.
About the authors
James Stoffer is the Chief Executive Officer at Abre.io where he focuses on leading company growth, operations, and talent strategies. He has spent his entire career in the education industry, most recently at DreamBox Learning, successfully leading sales, customer experience, and business operations. Prior to DreamBox he also held leadership positions at Hobsons and MasteryConnect. His passion is helping scale social impact companies focused on improving the lives and futures of students and educators throughout the world. He has an MBA from Xavier University and BS in Marketing from Clemson University.
Zach Vander Veen has worn many hats in education, including history teacher, technology coach, administrator, and director of technology. He loves learning, teaching, traveling and seeking adventures with his family. Currently, Zach is the co-founder and VP of Development and Customer Success at Abre.io, an education management platform.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.