5 Key Strategies for Financing Your Community School Initiative

When staff from San Mateo County, Redwood City, Redwood City School District, Sequoia Union High School District, community-based organizations, and private funders realized that they were meeting multiple times about different issues affecting the same children and families, they decided to formalize their partnerships through the creation of Redwood City 2020. Through this, the partner organizations created a vehicle for having more comprehensive conversations, setting priorities more strategically, and ultimately implementing programs with greater impact. Redwood City’s community school effort is an initiative of Redwood City 2020 and represents a pooling of partner resources. Despite declining budgets during the recession, Redwood City 2020 maintained support for its community schools, citing the significant return on investment they see each year.

In the recent era of tight public agency budgets, the community school approach has offered a strategic method for making tough budget decisions – making the most of existing resources. The following are five key strategies for financing your community school initiative. This information was pulled from a brief by the Partnership for Children & Youth, profiling five different community school initiatives.

1. Community schools are a community-wide investment
A common misconception about community schools is that this work is the district’s responsibility, when schools and their teachers are already stretched to the limit. On the contrary, the community school approach is about school districts turning to the community (especially county and city agencies) to help provide services and programs outside the expertise and beyond the resources of schools. The funding matrices in the Community Profiles section of the brief will show that school districts are contributing much less than 50% of the total resources. In Sacramento City Unified School District, for example, 85% of the overall budget for the initiative comes from partners or outside grants.

2. Don’t rely on a specific grant
While many communities successfully use competitive grants, such as the Full Service Community Schools or Promise Neighborhoods grants, this funding is often not sustainable. While additional funding may be helpful, it is important to note that many community school efforts have been launched in response to severe budget shortages as a way to use existing funds more strategically. Funding for community schools comes primarily from its partners, not from a specific grant or funding stream.

3. Align existing resources by leveraging partnerships
The core tenant of the community school approach is that the partnering entities combine resources. In many cases, successful community school efforts have been started with little to no new resources, but rather through partners re-deploying and re-allocating existing resources. This includes not just funding, but also time, personnel, and/or other assets. Through a coordinated system, a community school offers more effective programs and services than any one of its partners could offer on its own and eliminates duplicative efforts.

4. Set up clear structures for partnerships
Adopting a community school approach means that all partners must adopt a new way of doing business. Partners must commit to shared decision-making and put real resources on the table. The success of a community school effort is directly correlated with the strength of the infrastructure supporting its partnerships. While developing these relationships and systems takes time, it is a critical step in developing community schools. Discussions about filling service gaps, and determining which services should be offered, need to take place after each partner understands the purpose and role of the collaboration. In other words, decisions about how to work together are made before decisions about what to do. A full list of important characteristics of this governance infrastructure can be found on page 5 of the brief.

5. Invest in coordination of services
To ensure that a comprehensive and integrated set of services and programs is developed and functions well, the collaborative must make an investment in coordination. Without staff in charge of coordination, it is not possible to maximize the resources brought together by the partner agencies. While very few public funding streams are dedicated to such coordination, there are several federal, state, and local public funding streams that can be used for such costs, including Medi-Cal Administrative Activities (MAA), Title I, and general funds (see the Community Profiles in the brief for examples of funding streams most commonly used to pay for coordination and administration). Some successful community school efforts have pieced together cash and in-kind resources from each of the partners within a collaborative to cover the costs associated with coordination. To ensure adequate coordination is in place, community school efforts should prioritize obtaining policy and fiscal commitments from each partnering entity.

But you haven’t even mentioned LCFF or the new grant opportunity under SB 527.
Local Control is the perfect context in which to start making these kinds of systems and programmatic decisions and investments. However, we are not proposing that you use LCFF funds right off the bat. There are key funding streams that should be maximized and leveraged before LCFF funds are tapped. There is an exciting new grant opportunity for community schools under SB 527 that will be coming in late winter or early spring of 2017. But some of the most important work you can do in using a community school approach is to figure out how to make the best use of the funding you and your partners already have.

This financing brief provides evidence and ideas from successful, longstanding efforts that school districts, counties, cities, non-profit organizations, and other public entities can use to begin exploring how to form community school partnerships that support student success. Click here to read Community School Financing: Aligning Local Resources for Student Success, and learn from five different communities about how they financed their community school efforts in the midst of the recession.

Community School Financing: Aligning Local Resources for Student Success

This brief is an overview of community school financing in California. Five successful longstanding community school initiatives are profiled, providing evidence and ideas for funding. These community profiles include descriptions of the community school initiatives, the services and supports offered, the governance structure of the partnerships, comprehensive annual budgets with the funding sources listed, and the results achieved.

New Community School Grant Opportunity

By Ed Honowitz, Education Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Carol Liu

Governor Jerry Brown signed the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund: Learning Communities for School Success program into law Friday. This program will fund model practices that improve academic success, strengthen families, and build healthier communities.

The Learning Communities for School Success program is focused on implementing research-based strategies to improve school climate and address the school-to-prison pipeline. The bill directs savings from the prison sentencing reform initiative prop 47 and additional one-time funds to ensure that schools and community partners coordinate strategies to support our neediest students and families.

The grant program will fund successful strategies, such as community schools, which align support services including health and mental health providers to remove barriers to learning and address the underlying causes of chronic absence and trauma. These strategies include supporting social-emotional learning and alternative discipline approaches which strengthen the capacity of students to focus on academic success. SB 527 (Liu) and the accompanying bill AB 1014 (Thurmond) are funded at $28 million in the current budget.

These research-based approaches to serving the “whole child” are supported in the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which replaces the failures of No Child Left Behind. ESSA requires states to develop measures that address both the academic and non-academic needs of students. SB 527 reflects the framework developed by both houses of the Legislature in conjunction with the Department of Education, Department of Justice, Department of Finance, and stakeholders. By authorizing grant funds for evidence-based, non-punitive programs and practices to keep our most vulnerable students in school, the program enhances the actions and services in school districts’ local control and accountability plans.

This targeted funding will support additional model programs that can help districts learn and implement national best practices to keep students in school and on a productive path. Implementing activities and strategies to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism, and advance social-emotional learning, positive behavior interventions and supports, culturally responsive practices, and trauma-informed strategies, have shown results for our most vulnerable students.

The grant program will be administered by the Department of Education and moves our state further along the path of implementing community school strategies, including defining this approach in education code. Using schools as hubs, community school strategies foster intentional collaboration and alignment among schools; state, county, and city government; post-secondary education; community based organizations; non-profits; and business.

We continue to see the growing recognition that our schools and students succeed when we meet the broader needs of the whole child. There is a growing movement across the country that recognizes the effectiveness of combining rigorous relevant instruction with strategies that provide access to personalized support and services. This is the approach we need to keep our kids on the college and career track and out of the school-to-prison pipeline.

To Improve Climate & Student Engagement, Invest in Health

By Juan Taizan, California School-Based Health Alliance

The Student Perspective: Omar’s Story

For Omar, being a part of a gang simply meant he had other men from his neighborhood in whom he could confide, trust, and depend on to look out for him like a brother or son. These relationships often put Omar in situations where he had to stand up for his friends, which sometimes meant physically fighting other students.

After being suspended for one such fight, Omar was referred to his high school’s school-based health center (SBHC). The SBHC at his school makes sure students and their families have access to health care, but it also provides valuable health education – beyond what many teachers are able to do in the classroom – so students and parents can make better decisions that positively impact physical health, behavior, and academic success. As part of an agreement with the school administration, Omar’s suspension would be reduced if he agreed to participate in the SBHC’s Latino male engagement program and made an effort to improve his academics – Omar also had a D average and regularly missed a lot of school. Omar agreed. He met with a health educator from the SBHC several times over the next couple of weeks and created an academic improvement plan.

Because of the relationship he had built with the health educator, Omar agreed to join the SBHC’s after school program – Homies United in Solidarity to Teach, Learn, and Survive (HUSTLAS)–where he was able to connect with other young Latino men. He learned about Latino history and examples of men that fought for civil rights. After the sessions, Omar and the other young men often stayed to play football, soccer, or handball. Twice a week Omar showed up for the program. On more than one occasion Omar commented about he found it funny that for the first time in years, he was actually choosing to stay longer at school.

Omar was quickly seen as a leader in the program. He actively recruited other friends and family members to attend. He participated in other programs the SBHC offered, including a mural project, youth leadership retreats, and a talent show where he starred as the main character in a play about the school to prison pipeline. Omar was so proud of his commitment that one day he invited his mom to the SBHC to see the mural he and the other young men had created.

Over the course of his participation, Omar’s academics improved. He started attending school more regularly and admitted that most of the time this was so that he could attend the young men’s group. Teachers commented that his behavior in class had also improved. More impressive was Omar’s willingness to make and maintain new friendships with other students that were not from his neighborhood. Many of these new friends helped Omar with his school work and encouraged him to get involved in other youth leadership programs.

Omar didn’t graduate the top of his class and didn’t go on to a prestigious Ivy League college. Instead, he did something much more important and impressive: Omar survived. He graduated, learned a trade, and got a union job. He grew up, started a family, and bought a home. He achieved all of the goals he set out for himself.

Omar was the exception. Many of his friends did not have the same opportunities, and too many ended up dropping out, being locked-up, or not surviving. But Omar’s story can be replicated. His is an example of what can happen when school administrators invest in comprehensive health services and prioritize students who need support.

How Did the School Do It?

In 2006, the administration at Tennyson High School in Hayward was looking for better ways to support their Latino male students. Many of these young men were affiliating with local gangs and the number of on-campus gang related fights was increasing, leading to increased suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of Latino students. The school principal turned to the school-based health center (SBHC), sponsored by Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center, Inc., for support. Together, the principal and the SBHC initiated a Latino male engagement program.

The program elements included:

  • Enhanced referrals for support
  • Individual case management
  • Family support
  • After school programing
  • Alternative to suspension

For more on how to establish or expand your SBHC, check out Why School-Based Health Centers Matter or visit the California School-Based Health Alliance at www.schoolhealthcenters.org.

Why School-Based Health Centers Matter

Physical and emotional well-being are essential for a child to succeed in school. Yet, many children come to school suffering from conditions that seriously affect their attendance, achievement, connectedness to school, and dropout rates. Left untreated, these conditions can have a devastating and long-term impact. California’s school-based health centers are located in schools serving some of the state’s most vulnerable children. This chapter of “student Supports: Getting the Most out of Your LCFF Investment,” details how school districts can establish or expand their own school-based health centers to support progress on the LCFF priorities.

Averting Crisis in Our Classrooms

By Alicia Rozum, California School-Based Health Alliance

Jared had been acting different. Typically an excellent student, he started falling asleep in class or putting his head down on the desk. He seemed “out of it”–that’s how his Chemistry teacher wrote it on the referral form to the high school’s comprehensive mental health program. As the school social worker managing this program, I decided the signs noticed by his teacher were enough to warrant scheduling an appointment that week.

However, within days, we received three more referrals for Jared — one from a friend who said Jared “seemed sad and lonely”; a second from his art teacher reporting that his work had lately been focused on death and destruction; and a final referral from Jared’s sister, who attended a different high school. His sister confided to her counselor that her brother had been talking about suicide. The counselor had the training to know that this was a serious risk and contacted me immediately.

Thanks to the willingness of all these referral sources — two high school teachers and two high school students–we were able to intervene immediately with Jared. We learned that he was, in fact, contemplating suicide and had a plan to kill himself that weekend.

We implemented our school’s crisis intervention protocols: Jared was assessed by a mental health professional, his family was contacted, and he was transported to the hospital for treatment. After his release from the hospital, Jared was paired with our on-site mental health therapist to receive ongoing counseling. Two years later, Jared graduated from high school and was on his way to college.

In many ways, the comprehensive mental health program on site at this high school helped save Jared’s life. The program had several components that made it successful:

  • All students had access, not just those in special education.
  • It was publicized to students through classroom trainings, activities, and posters around campus.
  • Teachers knew about it through professional development and consultation.
  • It offered crisis intervention, one-on-one counseling, and case management services on site.

Your school district can have services like this too! Student mental health is a big concern among educators, with over 20 percent of youth having a diagnosed mental health disorder. Many classroom behavioral issues, like acting out, poor self-regulation, and attention issues, are related to mental health concerns. With the advent of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the increased focus on student engagement and school climate, mental health services in schools are a cost-effective way to increase attendance and reduce suspensions/expulsions.

Mental health professionals on campus also help schools prevent and address crises, train teachers in effective classroom strategies and how to support struggling students, and involve youth in delivering services that best meet their needs. To learn more about best practices for building comprehensive school-based mental health programs, check out Why Student Mental Health Matters or contact Alicia Rozum: arozum@schoolhealthcenters.org, Project Director, Mental Health, at the California School-Based Health Alliance.

Why Family Engagement Matters

Research has demonstrated the importance of building authentic partnerships between teachers and families. But how do schools implement these practices and how can school districts leverage their LCFF dollars?

Co-authored by High Expectations Parental Service and the Partnership for Children & Youth, this first chapter of “Student Supports: Getting the Most out of Your LCFF Investment” dives into the most impactful practices for family engagement and how they can help support progress on the LCFF priorities.

Engaging Families from the Classroom Out

By Teneh Weller, High Expectations Parental Service

I remember being a new 5th grade teacher, full of excitement and hope. I had the opportunity, in some small way, to change the world. I had a vision that all of my students, no matter where they started out, would reach proficiency in reading and math. I envisioned that they would all go to college and be happy and productive citizens. The majority of my students were at least two years below grade level in reading and many of them had serious behavior challenges. But this did not deter my enthusiasm. I was committed to supporting each child’s success.

I was so excited to share this vision with my families at Back-to-School Night. I had my speech ready! I was going to start off with my vision for the students and then let the parents know how my classroom rules, procedures, and curriculum would help THEIR children reach MY vision.

Needless to say, the night did not go well. And many of my subsequent interactions with families did not go well either. I couldn’t understand it! I only wanted the best for their children. Why didn’t they want to partner with me? One evening, I was crying to my husband for the umpteenth time, and he asked me a question. “Did you ever bother asking the families what their vision is for their children?”

Asking that single question, “What is your vision for your child’s future?” shifted the way I engaged with families. When they told me that they wanted their child to be happy and go to college, it gave me the opportunity to provide the tools and resources needed to help them reach THEIR vision for THEIR child.

The most powerful relationship in a child’s education is between the family (the child expert) and the teacher (the content expert). The family brings a wealth of knowledge about their child and the community they live in. The family holds the vision for the child’s future. The teacher is the educational leader and knows the most about how the child is performing academically.

So often, family engagement staff, after-school coordinators, or the attendance clerks have the strongest relationships with families. School districts often invest in family liaisons and offer professional development to build their capacity. The school community then relies on the family liaison to engage all of the parents. Similarly, attendance clerks are typically responsible for communicating with families whose students are truant. They work to support families in increasing their child’s attendance. There is no doubt that these relationships are important but they cannot replace the partnership between “the child expert” and the “content expert”.
Because teachers do not have a lead role in the family engagement cast, most interactions with families are not linked to learning, and therefore do not support increased academic success.

73% of teachers surveyed in 2012 found it very challenging or challenging to engage parents in improving the education of students. (MetLife, 2012.)

It is during the family-teacher interactions that teachers can provide the families with detailed, targeted tools and resources that can support the child’s success in class. It is during these times that families can share information on how the child feels about school or how certain life experiences are impacting their ability to focus in class. The family and the teacher can sit down to identify interventions, strategies, and needed resources that will improve outcomes for the child both at home and at school. When families and teachers have this deeper relationship, they can then turn together to the other key community partners at the school for any additional supports to ensure that students have what they need to thrive developmentally and succeed academically.

Here are some proven strategies that support family engagement from the classroom out:

Share the Vision: Provide a space and time for families to share with the teacher their vision for their child’s future. What are their hopes and dreams for their child? How can the school support those hopes and dreams?

Dual-Capacity Building: Both families and teachers need tools and strategies for building strong partnerships. Schools must provide ongoing professional development for teachers to equip them to engage families in ways that lead to increased academic outcomes. Training will offer teachers strategies for engaging families in ways that do not add to their plates, but rather, strengthen their existing interactions.

Schools often offer opportunities for families to be involved at the school. The challenge is to ensure that those opportunities are linked to learning, foster strong relationships, and build the families’ capacity to support learning at home.

Develop an Action Plan: An effective way for families and teachers to partner is through the use of a Family-School Action Plan during parent-teacher conferences. What is powerful about this process is that the parent and teacher walk away from the meeting understanding exactly what they need to do to support the success of the child. This plan is used to:
1. Identify a child’s strengths and challenges in the areas of academics, behavior, or attendance
2. Set a short-term goal
3. Identify the role of the parent, teacher, and child in reaching the goal
4. Set a time for the parent and teacher to review progress and determine next steps

By the end of my first year of teaching, and throughout my ten years in the classroom, I asked families to share their vision for their child’s future. I made sure that during every meeting or event, I provided families with easy-to-use tools that they could implement with their child and see immediate results. It was key to my success as a teacher and key to the success of my students.

The most effective forms of parent involvement are those which engage parents in working directly with their children on learning activities at home.
(Cotton, K., Wikelund, K., Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, School Improvement Research Series, Parent Involvement in Education.)

For more information on best practices around family engagement that puts teachers and families at the center of your efforts, as well as some tips for how to think about this in an LCFF/LCAP context, see the chapter I co-authored, Why Family Engagement Matters, on the California Community Schools Network website.