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The community schools strategy transforms a school into a place where educators, local community members, families, and students work together to strengthen conditions for student learning and healthy development. As partners, they organize in- and out-of-school resources, supports, and opportunities so that young people thrive.
The school community, led by a community school coordinator/manager, works to develop a vision and goals for the school, student and family well-being, and student learning.
Community schools are not static entities; instead, they are constantly adapting and setting priorities based on intentionally collected, actionable data. Working together, the school community tracks progress in ongoing improvement cycles of shared reflection, analysis, revision, and inclusive decision making. This continuous improvement process both builds capacity and draws on the support of the entire school community to develop and maintain a responsive, high-quality community school where students flourish. For this strategy to be effective and sustainable, a system-level support infrastructure needs to be in place. This includes, but is not limited to, sustainable resources, shared governance structures, continuous improvement, data systems, professional learning opportunities, and strategic partnerships. These can be provided in part by local, state, and federal policies, ongoing technical assistance, and private and public investments.
Community Schools Forward. (2023). Framework: Essentials for community school
The Colorado Department of Education supports community schools as an evidence-based strategy for continuous school improvement and transformation. The information below describes essential elements of the community schools strategy (as determined by state policy and national experts) and provides information about key legislation and resources that support this strategy in Colorado.
Colorado state law SB19-102 defines community schools as public schools that conduct annual needs and assets assessments of and by the school community that engages at least 75% of families, students, and educators in the community and uses data analysis to develop and update a strategic plan that:
- outlines the community school’s vision, mission, and values;
- identifies areas of strength in the school and community that the school with draw and areas of need that the school will address;
- describes key initiatives aligned with each key practice listed below;
- describes the process used to engage partners who bring assets and expertise to support implementation;
- creates problem-solving teams composed of school and community stakeholders dedicated to implementation and continuous improvement;
- provides an overview of existing and prospective funding; and
- outlines a progress monitoring and evaluation plan.
The community school coordinator is an essential staff member who:
- serves as a member of the school leadership team;
- assembles and regularly convenes stakeholders;
- leads the analysis of school needs and assets and the development, implementation, and monitoring of the strategic plan;
- facilitates problem-solving teams; and
- is responsible for developing, coordinating, and sustaining partnerships with individuals and service agencies that provide services to the school community.
The community schools strategy enables schools and their partners to generate optimal, “whole child” conditions for student learning and development through the integrated implementation of the following key practices:
- Integrated systems of supports: Community schools provide and coordinate a range of on-site services and supports that address academic and non-academic needs. While every community will identify unique needs, often these services and supports include:
- medical, dental and healthcare services (often in the form of school-based health centers);
- tutoring and other academic supports;
- and resources for families such as housing assistance or clothing and food banks.
To promote healthy learning and development, a dedicated team composed primarily of school staff and community partners intentionally and systematically coordinates services, supports, and opportunities that foster individual and collective well-being, using an assets-based approach to nurture the strengths and address the needs of students and families.
- Powerful student and family engagement: Community schools promote meaningful and authentic collaboration and consistent interaction between students, administration, and families. Families and students actively participate in the school community and are key partners in decision-making, shaping the school’s environment, priorities, and partnerships. Families’ lived experiences and wisdom inform approaches to student success. As a result, schools become hubs providing opportunities for adults as well as young people. CDE’s Office of Family-School-Community Partnerships has a team of specialists and an expansive resource library to support planning and implementation of this key practice. In addition, CDE’s Office of Adult Education Initiatives supports local adult learning programs.
- Collaborative leadership, shared power and voice: Families, students, teachers, principals, and community partners co-create a culture of professional learning, collective trust, and shared responsibility as they make decisions together. These decisions are made in both formal structures, such as site-based leadership teams and regularly administered surveys, and through more informal engagement, such as coffee with the coordinator, hallway conversations, and community gatherings.
- Expanded, enriched learning opportunities: Community schools provide students with as much as one-third more learning opportunities through out-of-school time (OST) programs through collaboration between the school and community partners. Before- and after-school, fifth-day, weekend, and summer programs provide expanded time, expanded staffing, and expanded opportunities for learning and engagement. OST opportunities include academic instruction, enrichment and extracurricular activities, and individualized support. CDE’s Office of Student Support has a team of OST specialists and an expansive resource library to support planning and implementation of this practice.
- Rigorous, community-connected classroom instruction: Teaching and learning infuses high-level content and skills with real-world learning opportunities. The curriculum is deeply connected to the local community and students’ identities, cultures, and experiences, providing opportunities for students to engage in meaningful inquiry-based learning and problem-solving.
- Culture of belonging, safety, and care: The school climate is welcoming and fosters trust among students, families, partners, and staff. Each person in the school community is valued for their rich diversity of experiences and is encouraged to share their views, knowledge, and culture. The school becomes a place grounded in healthy relationships, in which members feel safe and comfortable navigating conflicts and taking risks. Students feel connected to and are active participants in the school community. CDE’s Office of School Culture and Climate supports planning and implementation of this key practice.