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How to Scale-Up a Community School Model

Having a shared vision and accountability, local buy-in, and strong partnerships are essential to scaling up a community schools model, reports an interactive online guide from the Coalition for Community Schools, released today.

The guide is an effort by the coalition, an alliance of national, state, and local organizations that advocates the building of community schools around the country, to help interested schools and organizations support a shift to community schools.

Simply put, community schools are those that use a system of partnerships and community resources to enhance the school experience for their students though providing supports like after-school programs, mentorship opportunities, parent education classes, health services, and preschool programs. Single schools can be community schools or entire school districts can be community school districts.

As I posted in the spring, Cincinnati's 5th quarter program is one example of a community school effort: Local organizations in the city have enabled the district to provide an extra month of school for underserved students. In that month, students not only receive additional instruction, but are also able to engage in hands-on learning activities, many of which are provided through community supports.

The new guide from the coalition, "Scaling Up School and Community Partnerships," walks through the process of how to implement this model, specifically how to scale-up a community school to a community district following a framework and facilitating connections with local resources.

"A community schools strategy is based on a culture that builds collective trust and promotes a set of core principles, including high expectations for schools and students, reliance on family and community strengths, and the development of the whole child as critical factors for student success," the guide says. "A set of structural elements, including partnerships, alignment of funding streams with the natural assets of communities, and the integration of academic learning with essential supports and opportunities, helps diverse communities craft their own vehicle for change."

According to the coalition, more and more schools and districts are looking for ways to supplement their existing school programs, especially when budgets are tight, and turning to the community school model as a solution. Just this summer, the coalition announced the Oakland Unified School District in California decided to become a community district and the community school model was recently profiled in the U.S. Department of Education's "Handbook for Family and Community Engagement" as a strategy for turning around low-performing schools.

In addition to the walk-through, the guide profiles some case studies of effective scaled-up community schools programs around the country, such as those in Chicago; Kansas City, Mo.; Portland, Ore.; and Tulsa, Okla.

"Schools just do not have the resources to address all of the forces in student's lives that impact learning; nor can they open up the real world to students that is available in our communities," said Marty Blank, director of the coalition and president of the Institute for Educational Leadership.

"If our nation is to educate our increasingly diverse student population, our schools and communities must work together. Community schools are showing how to do this at scale in more and more places. This guide shows others how to do the same," he added.

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