May 18, 2022

Hayin Klimner, Martin Blank: Every school can, and should, be a community school

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The term “community school” is being used by a variety of people to mean a range of educational arrangements. Here Klimner and Blank explain what the best and truest version of a community school should look like.

Community schools do not emerge in a single stroke, nor are they a quick fix. Rather, they develop synergistically over time as educators, families and their community work together. All schools can, and should, be community schools.

From this perspective, we offer educators, partners and family and community representatives some discussion prompts as they plan together and strengthen their community school strategy.

School site teams: Establish or support a formal school-site team of students, parents, educators and community partners (including higher education and municipal agencies) to determine how to support students and connect to community resources. These teams are vital in the planning process and offer a mechanism for sustained engagement. Repurposing and expanding existing structures is feasible so long as there is a clear commitment to partnership and collaboration. Sometimes a new group will be necessary.

Questions to ask: Who do we need to engage? Do we have a culture of shared leadership and decision-making? What do we need to do to foster that kind of approach?

Fill critical gaps: The Community Schools Partnership Program can fill gaps in by financing programs or deepening strategies that reflect the immediate concerns of students, parents, teachers and the community. Look for low-hanging fruit around which staff and partners are ready to mobilize. Quick wins engender trust and efficacy and build muscle memory for more complex challenges.

Questions to ask: What data and information do we have; what more do we need to gather to identify gaps and potential strategies? What areas are best primed for early success? 

Community school coordinators: A coordinator serves as a site-based “chief of staff” to the principal bringing together strategies and partners to ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction. The coordinator’s role is not to “own” all the programs — but rather, to foster shared ownership over student outcomes, ensuring that opportunities and supports are based on identified needs. Coordinators cultivate a culture of collaboration that leads to lasting relationships among educators, families, partners and communities.

Questions to ask: Is there someone on staff or an existing partner who could fill this role? What role might partners play?

Engaging students in community-based learning: The Covid crisis, California’s drought, housing instability, pollution, community-level violence and many other issues that students see every day can become a core part of an interdisciplinary curriculum. Funds can facilitate relationships with community groups with expertise in these areas and create learning opportunities that engage students and lift their voices, are culturally affirming, and connects learning to their community.

Questions to ask: What are the most pressing challenges our students/families are facing, and how are they reflected in our curricula? 

Build bridges to the community: Public schools need deeper relationships with the communities they serve. When schools recognize they “can’t do it alone,” they are recognizing the social, economic and community forces that influence their ability to get results. They are honoring the assets and expertise available in their communities. A school that is more responsive to community concerns has more community support in tough times.

Questions to ask: What partners, systems and people in our community do we want to engage more intentionally in supporting our community school work?

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