What Does it Take to Create a Successful Community School?

Community Schools have been getting a lot of attention as more and more districts try and implement them in an effort to mitigate affects of poverty on students' opportunities to learn. In Philadelphia, the Mayor-elect Jim Kenney has called for an increase of 25 community schools. A new brief by Research for Action takes an in-depth look at how these types of schools really work in practice, and what methods of implementation have been most effective so far. This research helps to combat some skeptics, who argue that these types of full-service schools are expensive and difficult to implement, in part because they must be so individualized to each community. By pointing out exactly what has been working in community schools, the research brief provides districts and schools with specific ways community schools can work to help improve student success.

Community schools provide various supports for their students beyond simple educational requirements. They respond to the needs of the community to create a full-service environment that offers supports like health care, literacy services, employment services for adults, child care, counseling, and food assistance programs. These services connect the school to the community and ensure that students have all the support they need to succeed academically. Another crucial part of community schools is that they rely on community input, not merely the input of legislators or school reformers.

The report discusses multiple case studies, each which implement and fund community schools in slightly different ways. For instance, in some Pennsylvania schools, corporate partners are used to help provide funding, but in other schools, foundations provide the necessary support. Throughout the report they also include "lessons learned" sections, which summarize the most important take-aways from the case studies and advocate for specific effective implementation strategies. Although these sections are geared specifically towards Pennsylvania, they would probably be helpful in implementing community schools in any state or district.

Some of these take-aways are:

  • Consult community stakeholders early
  • Integrate school staff into a building-level team
  • Set expectations that change will take time
  • Establish a process for the district and their partners to agree on a vision
  • Define and support the strategy through policies, laws, and regulations
  • Develop diverse funding streams

This report would be helpful for any districts or advocates looking to implement community schools. You can read the entirety of it here.

Interested in learning more? Schott last year released an infographic detailing some of the ways community schools work as an alternative to school closures. Check it out here: