Thursday, July 25, 2013

Community Schools: A Natural Part of Place-Based Initiatives

The Coalition for Community Schools has released The Role of Community Schools in Place-Based Initiatives: Collaborating for Student Success in partnership with PolicyLink, Institute for Educational Leadership and West Coast Collaborative. The report outlines how communities in Los Angeles, Multnomah County (Oregon) and South King County (Washington) have integrated community schools into cradle-to-career strategies in the same geographic areas.

The idea of community schools has been around for decades and has recently gained momentum, with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) offering Full-Service Community School Grants from 2008 to 2010. Community schools, themselves a place-based strategy, aim to make schools hubs of the community by offering a variety of services and opportunities for children and their families. By collaborating with community partners, community schools can provide services ranging from afterschool art education to training programs for parents. The report details the natural alignment between existing community schools and cradle-to-career efforts such as Promise Neighborhoods.

In the late 1990s in Portland, Oregon, and the surrounding county of Multnomah, residents faced dismal education outcomes: low graduation rates, a large achievement gap and increasing levels of poverty. Meanwhile, schools weren’t prepared to educate an increasingly diverse population. Community members, elected officials of Portland and Multnomah County and school district and business leaders, joined together and identified community schools as the strategy to move their schools forward. In 1999, Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Community Schools was launched with eight demonstration sites. Currently, there are 67 schools in six districts in the SUN initiative. SUN schools are getting positive results – attendance rates have increased to 95%, more than 75% of students have increased their benchmark reading scores and high school students are earning more credits toward graduation than their peers. SUN was included as an integral part of Portland’s recently-adopted strategic plan, and the city hopes to transform every school into a SUN Community School.

In South King County, Washington, the city of Tukwila was chosen as a demonstration site for a community schools initiative due to its high poverty rate, increasing resettled refugee population and its high number of students living in out-of-home placements. A collaboration of five public and private agencies organized the Tukwila Community Schools Collaboration, now simply the Community Schools Collaboration (CSC), in 1998. At Foster High School, the only high school in the city, student outcomes have dramatically changed for the better. The class of 2010’s graduation rate was 76.3%, a 24-point increase from six years ago. Over time, CSC has expanded its efforts into other nearby communities. When White Center, a South King County community, decided to apply for a Promise Neighborhoods grant, CSC provided an existing framework and infrastructure for collaboration. Although White Center did not ultimately receive a federal grant, the Promise Neighborhood model is being used to guide future efforts in the area. In 2010, the Road Map Project, a cradle-to-career initiative led by the Community Center for Education Results (CCER) in South King County, collaborated with CSC to gain community support and share ideas. This collaboration paid off as the Road Map Project received $40 million in federal Race to the Top funds.

The Los Angeles Education Partnership (LAEP) started using a community school strategy in the late 1980s as part of its agenda to support high-quality education In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The first community school in the area grew out of LAEP’s work with the Healthy Start initiative designed to coordinate and align resources and programs that support children and families in their communities. Over time, LAEP has integrated its community school work into LAUSD’s school reform agenda and other community revitalization efforts. In 2010, community schools in partnership with LAEP and related neighborhood initiatives helped the Pacoima and Hollywood communities form the Los Angeles Promise Neighborhood. The LA Promise Neighborhood won a planning grant in 2010 and a five-year implementation grant in 2012.

These case studies display the complementary efforts of community school approaches and place-based initiatives. As demonstrated in these three communities, community schools bring these particular strengths to neighborhood initiatives:
  • A clear vision of communities as a place of opportunity,
  • Deeply rooted relationships with the community,
  • Demonstrated success in multi-sector partnerships, 
  • Flexibility to respond to emerging opportunities, 
  • Direct supports for students and families,
  • Mobilization of a different set of organizations and leaders, and
  • Established indicators and accountability frameworks. 
In distressed communities, there are often several programs or strategies in place to improve outcomes for children and families. While these initiatives all aim to improve the community, they are too often working in isolation. The community school strategy, in concert with cradle-to-career efforts, helps these communities align their existing efforts and create new strategies aimed at improving results for neighborhood residents.

For more information, check out this archived webinar addressing the role of community schools in place-based initiatives. Speakers include leaders from the each of the three community school initiatives mentioned above.

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