Using schools as hubs, community schools bring educators, families, and community partners together to offer a range of opportunities, supports, and services to children, youth as well as their families and communities. Community schools:
- Provide expanded learning opportunities that are motivating and engaging during the school day, after school, and in the summer; and
- Offer essential health and social supports and services;
- Engage families and communities as assets in the lives of their children and youth.
Every community school responds to unique local needs and includes the voices of students, families, and residents. Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone—beyond school hours, including evenings and weekends.
Community schools have a climate and culture that enable students to develop cognitive, social, emotional, physical, civic, and ethical competencies and the capacity to thrive in college, career, and life and as participants in our democracy.
Think of community schools as both a strategy and a place. A strategy for bringing together educators, families and community stakeholders to attain collective impact; a place where the community gathers to support the education of its children and youth and a place through which its young people are connected to learning experiences across the community.
Schools, together with their communities, must work to fulfill six conditions for learning that we have identified as necessary for every child to succeed, based on an analysis of research. These conditions are:
- Early childhood development is fostered through high-quality, comprehensive programs that nurture learning and development.
- The school has a core instructional program with qualified teachers, a challenging curriculum, and high standards and expectations for students.
- Students are motivated and engaged in learning — both in school and in community settings, during and after school.
- The basic physical, mental and emotional health needs of young people and their families are recognized and addressed.
- There is mutual respect and effective collaboration among parents, families and school staff.
- Community engagement, together with school efforts, promotes a school climate that is safe, supportive, and respectful and connects students to a broader learning community.
Community schools intentionally create an infrastructure that enables educators and community partners to forge strong relationships and align their assets and expertise to move the needle on key indicators related to young people’s success. Here are the key ingredients for a strong community school:
- Principals, who know their community, see achieving equity as fundamental to their work, and make their building a place where educators, partners, and the public feel comfortable working together.
- Skilled teachers and instructional support personnel, who have high expectations for their students, enjoy collaborative relationships with families and community partners, and offer students robust learning experiences that draw on community resources and expertise.
- Community partners with the expertise to help achieve the goals of the community school and who are well integrated into the life of the school.
- A community schools coordinator, who serves as a bridge between school and community, aligns the work of educators and community partners toward a common set of results, and supports a site leadership team.
- A site leadership team that gives families, young people, and residents a voice and involves them, along with educators and community partners in the planning, implementation, and oversight of the community school.
- A community needs and assets assessment that identifies the needs of students, schools, families, and the community as well as the assets of individuals, formal institutions and agencies, and informal organizations in the community that can be mobilized to meet these needs.
- A focus on results and accountability that uses data to define specific indicators which the community school seeks to improve, and the capacity to collect and analyze data to measure progress.
There are many community school models that tend to share a core set of operating principles. These include:
- Strive towards equity – Fairness and opportunity are fundamental moral underpinnings of American education and democracy. Community schools mobilize the human, institutional, and financial resources of their communities needed to close the opportunity gap and the achievement gap and ensure that all young people have a fair chance at success.
- Foster strong partnerships — Partners share their resources and expertise and work together to design community schools and make them work.
- Share accountability for results — Clear, mutually agreed-upon results drive the work of community schools. Data helps partners measure progress toward results, and agreements enable them to hold each other accountable and move beyond “turf battles.”
- Set high expectations for all — Community schools are organized to support learning. Children, youth and adults are expected to learn at high standards and be contributing members of their community.
- Build on the community’s strengths — Community schools marshal the assets of the entire community — including the people who live and work there, local organizations, and the school.
- Embrace diversity — Community schools know their communities. They work to develop respect and a strong, positive identity for people of diverse backgrounds and are committed to the welfare of the whole community.
- Advocate local decision-making – To unleash the power of local communities, local leaders make decisions about their community schools strategy, while individual schools respond to their unique circumstances.
Community schools also differ in how they view the community around them and how they work with community partners. Community schools see the community as a resource for learning and development and as a partner in the education of its children. They develop respectful and mutually beneficial relationships with families, neighborhood residents; and agencies and organizations are concerned with the well-being of children and youth.
Community schools have three major advantages that schools acting alone do not. Community schools:
- Garner additional resources to reduce the demand on school staff for addressing all the challenges that students bring to school.
- Provide learning opportunities that develop cognitive, social, emotional, physical and civic competencies.
- Build social capital—the networks and relationships that support learning and create opportunities for young people—while strengthening their communities.
Operationally, community schools typically have a coordinator who is responsible for aligning the work of educators and community partners and aligning their programs with the goals of the school. Community schools coordinators sit on the School Leadership Team. Look here for position descriptions of community school coordinators.
Any school can be a community school. This includes traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, parochial schools and private schools. However, most existing community schools are public schools.