Washington, D.C. — At an event today to discuss building and maintaining strong community school partnerships, the Center for American Progress released two new reports exploring successful strategies for meeting the nonacademic needs of students in order to help students and teachers perform to the best of their abilities in the classroom.
In a time of declining fiscal resources and greater demand for public services, districts with fewer resources to spread around are focusing on partnerships that leverage the strengths of multiple organizations to improve student outcomes. Such partnerships form the basis for community schools, which provide an integrated approach to academics, youth development, family support, health and social services, and community development. As important as partnerships may be, however, they are not always easy to build and sustain over time.
The first paper, entitled "Achieving Results Through Community School Partnerships," draws on the experiences of several community school initiatives to form and maintain effective partnerships with local government agencies, teachers’ unions, and other organizations. Based on these experiences, the report outlines the following six key strategies for building strong partnerships:
- Ensure that all partners share a common vision. The entire community and all involved partners should agree on the same goals and expectations.
- Establish formal relationships and collaborative structures to engage stakeholders. Initiating and sustaining stakeholder participation often requires creating structured opportunities ranging from developing taskforces to creating formal agreements.
- Encourage open dialogue about challenges and solutions. To foster shared ownership, stakeholders must engage honestly and constructively with each other to solve problems and make midcourse corrections.
- Engage partners in the use of data. Sharing data enables all stakeholders to understand where things stand and hold each other accountable for making measurable progress.
- Create and empower central-office capacity at the district level to sustain community school work. Continued capacity can be created through establishing a high-level management position within a district’s central office or though creating an office dedicated to supporting a community school agenda.
- Leverage community resources and braid funding streams. Community schools capitalize on the financial assets of community partners and funding streams to support programs and activities aligned with their common vision.
“Many education reformers of the past decade have ignored the nonschool factors that research tells us have a direct impact on student achievement,” said Martin Blank, director of the Coalition for Community Schools and president of the Institute for Educational Leadership. “The superintendents and community leaders who are organizing community schools know better. They are working together to create the conditions for learning that will enable all students to thrive by addressing in-school and nonschool factors.”
The second paper, entitled "Lightening the Load: A Look at Four Ways that Community Schools Can Support Effective Teaching," examines specific examples of schools where wraparound services are benefiting teachers in addition to students. The report draws on phone interviews conducted with teachers, principals, or site coordinators at 14 community schools across the country. Four main trends emerged from these conversations:
- Providing wraparound services at school helped reduce health-related issues that would otherwise cost students instructional time.
- Wraparound services help students and families stay in the community by meeting basic needs, and the resulting decrease in mobility benefits teachers by creating classroom stability.
- Offering family programs such as English language learner classes can encourage parents to communicate more with teachers and empower them to help their children with homework and support the work that teachers do in the classroom.
- Enlisting the help of community partners and service providers such as onsite health professionals can free teachers to concentrate on instruction with fewer worries about nonacademic student needs, which reduces their stress levels and burnout tendencies.
The paper concludes with a set of detailed recommendations that schools, districts, and states can take to maximize the benefits of wraparound services for teachers.
“We know that highly effective teachers and strong partnerships between communities and schools are critical for providing all students with a high-quality education, but these are not easy to achieve,” said Cynthia Brown, CAP’s Vice President for Education Policy. “These reports provide greater insight into the ways in which wraparound services can help teachers maximize their effectiveness in the classroom and bring together partners to improve outcomes for students.”
Read the reports:
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