The United States Department of Education recently announced a notice inviting applications for the Full-Service Community Schools program to provide high-quality integrated academic, health, and social services and engagement support for all students. Grant program continues to reflect steady increases in federal appropriations process since inception $5 million in fiscal year 2009, to $25 million in 2020, $30 million in 2021, $75 million in 2022and one proposed substantial increase of $468 million in 2023. The exponential growth in investments demonstrates continued interest and confidence in community school strategies as a powerful approach to holistic transformation of child education in schools and communities. Similarly, the possibilities of dedicated public funding in Maryland, New Yorkand California reflect a growing body of evidence from decades of implementation expertise on how community school strategies – when supported and supported – can leverage the strengths and voices of the whole community. community to support student success.
The National Community School Forward Task Force welcomes this support for community schools as a strategy to increase youth and community voice, provide rigorous community-linked instruction, expand learning opportunities, and improve school climate, health and mental health, and college and post-secondary studies. student results. The task force recognizes that while funding is necessary to continue accelerating the growth of community schools, increasing it alone will not directly translate into effective partnerships and strategies with community schools. Quality technical assistance should be provided to practitioners. The task force project team has developed a national needs assessment to get a clearer picture of the type of community school technical assistance that is needed across the country.
What is Community School Technical Assistance?
The National Child Support Center for Community Schools (NCCS) is a practice-based technical assistance provider that has supported the start-up, scale-up and sustainability of community school initiatives across the country and internationally, NCCS has seen this happens with (and without) strong and consistent advice and capacity building. We define technical assistance as the process of building the capacity of community school actors to start, scale and sustain transformational community schools. Informed by a comprehensive needs and assets assessment and guided by a plan developed jointly with the client, technical assistance includes organizing communities of action, facilitating connections, and providing relevant tools and skills.
In early 2022, in anticipation of the technical assistance needs of new and developing community school practitioners, NCCS – in partnership with the Brookings Institution, the Learning Policy Instituteand the Coalition for Community Schools— conducted an assessment of community school practitioners and experts to assess emerging needs and best practices in the implementation of community schools and technical assistance. Our survey findings provide important direction 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 the technical assistance needs and assets of community schools and recommend that technical assistance providers give priority :
- Clarity of the model for all stakeholders – ensure that all stakeholders have the same conceptual understanding of community schools and their role within the model.
- Structures and systems for community voices – develop mechanisms that invite democratic processes within a community school.
- Collaboration structures and systems leadership – systems and processes that enhance distributed leadership and collaborative decision-making.
- Asset-Based Thinking – Cultivate a perspective based on the strengths of students, families and the community.
- Sustainability – navigating braided funding and “telling the story” to public and private funders in a way that accurately reflects the work; develop a model or network supported by community and leadership, and not vulnerable to changes in leadership.
- Reinventing Systems for Equity – examine existing school processes and structures to determine if the current approach meets all of the needs of students, families and the community. Change systems that do not meet the needs of all stakeholders.
- Data systems – develop data collection and analysis systems that capture accurate data related to identified outcomes and aligned to a logic model.
- Data culture and continuous improvement – create a positive and collaborative environment where problems can be identified and solved using data and surveys.
Additionally, in our report, practitioners have shared the most impactful strategies that community school policy makers and partners can prioritize as part of their development process.
Strategy 1: Common language and understanding for everything stakeholders
The first step towards developing a clear model for community schools is to have a common language and understanding for all stakeholders in schools, districts and communities. In a community school, teachers, staff, partners, students and parents need to know both the school’s shared collective vision and goals, and how they can bring their expertise and perspectives to co-construct what she will become. Several respondents indicated that this initial upgrade helped individual staff across roles and institutions to get on the same page.
Strategy 2: Development of advisory and steering committees
Advisory and steering committees guide the work of community schools and intentionally preserve space for community voices. A strong advisory board can both hold the school accountable and ensure strong links with members of the local community. Advisory committees should evolve from a comprehensive assessment of strengths and needs during the first year of community school development and represent a diverse group of community stakeholders and leaders. By rooting the assessment of needs and assets in community conversations, the resulting strategic plan reflects and prioritizes local knowledge and community wisdom.
Strategy 3: Continuous improvement methodology
Continuous improvement and structured data demands are cornerstones of Community Schools. A technical assistance provider explained that helping schools understand the “how” of community schools is like cultivating a new way of thinking using data and reflection. Another provider described problem-solving with practitioners to ensure that their asset and needs assessment included all stakeholders and involved a significant majority of the school community. Thus, by building teams that identify problems and using an improvement methodology such as “plan, do, study, act” cycles or results-based accountability, practitioners can develop systems that use data and community experiences to transform schools.
The recommendations and structures highlighted above and explored in this report are adaptive and complex. Community schools must have a clear model, a community voice and commit to continuous improvement to be holistic, responsive and innovative. The implementation of the community school and the technical assistance must be properly financed. As this strategy expands nationally, new entrants will adopt the strategy and existing practitioners will need support and guidance. Without this support, we risk developing an ineffective, transactional and siled strategy, as opposed to one that is transformative and community and student driven.