Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement

This brief by the Learning Policy Institute examines the research on community schools, with two primary emphases. First, it explores whether the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens the possibility of investing in well-designed community schools to meet the educational needs of low-achieving students in high-poverty schools. And second, it provides support to school, district, and state leaders as they consider, propose or implement a community school intervention in schools targeted for comprehensive support.

Think Outside the Survey Box: Creative Ways to Solicit Youth Feedback

Break out of the survey box! There’s more than one way to learn what youth think, care about, want to do, or have learned in your program… so let’s use them! Check out our hands-on guide for youth practitioners to learn about verbal, kinesthetic and visual ways to solicit young people’s input. This guide will teach you to identify creative strategies for data collection in your programs, and understand the pros and cons of these strategies.

Rocking Your Community Needs Assessment – Fact Sheet

Does the term “needs assessment” send chills down your spine? Wondering how you’ll complete the community needs assessment for your next grant proposal? We’ve got you! See our fact sheet about web sites with easy-to-use data about communities. Download this list of the sites we like the most.

Rocking Your Next Needs Assessment – Webinar

To get started on a community needs assessment for your next grant proposal, watch this recording of Public Profit’s 1-hour webinar about easy-to-access data sources. This webinar was hosted by Public Profit on February 24, 2017 specifically for the California Community Schools Network, looking toward the upcoming release of the Request for Proposals for the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund: Learning Communities for School Success (Prop 47) grants. Learn about how to access and use publicly available data to help support your next needs assessment!

Making Data Work in California

This brief is designed to help district decision-makers in California think about how they might collect and use chronic absence data, with an emphasis on leveraging their Student Information Systems (SIS) to support this work. It lays out approaches to maximize the opportunities presented by recent changes at the state and federal level, including CALPADS new attendance data collection for 2016-17 school year, and new chronic absence reporting requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act. The brief also provides suggestions for how to best leverage SIS providers for tracking, analyzing, disseminating, and using chronic absence data to develop strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism among students.

Grant Opportunity: Get out your data and start planning now!

Back in September, the Governor signed into law Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund: Learning Communities for School Success. This program takes savings from Proposition 47 and creates a grant program for school districts to implement research-based strategies to improve school climate and mitigate the school-to-prison pipeline.

The focus of these grants is to support “evidence-based, non-punitive programs and practices to keep the state’s most vulnerable students in school.” Using a community schools approach – integrating comprehensive services into schools through community partnerships – is explicitly named as an eligible strategy. Districts interested in launching a community school initiative should consider applying.

For districts that are ready for deeper dives into more targeted strategies, the list of eligible activities also includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Strategies to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism
  • Restorative practices, restorative justice models, or other programs to improve retention rates, reduce suspensions, and reduce student contact with law enforcement agencies
  • Social-emotional learning, positive behavior interventions and supports, culturally responsive practices, and trauma-informed strategies

The California Department of Education (CDE) will be administering the grant program. The request for proposals is expected to be released in early 2017. Local education agencies (school districts, county offices of education, or charter schools) may apply for a grant. Funding levels are still being determined, but we know that grants will be for three years of funding. Grant recipients must make a matching expenditure of cash or in-kind contributions that equal at least 20 percent of the total grant awarded.

There are some good reasons to get started early in planning for your application. The RFP is expected to come out in early 2017 – January or February at the latest. And because funds must be expended in the current fiscal year, we are anticipating a quick turnaround time. In addition, planning timelines will be compressed as grant recipients will be required to align their funded strategies with their goals in their local control accountability plan (LCAP).

Who will receive these grants?

In selecting grant recipients, CDE will give priority to LEAs based on the following criteria:

  • High rates of chronic absenteeism, out-of-school suspension, and school dropout
  • Located in a community with a high crime rate
  • Have a significant representation of foster youth among its pupil enrollment

Get started now:

Based on these priorities, we encourage you to start your proposal planning process now so that you’re ready to go when the RFP comes out in the new year.

  • Gather your relevant student and neighborhood data.
  • Think about which strategies will make the biggest impact for your vulnerable student populations.
  • Think about which of your community partners can help to implement your strategy.
  • If you need additional assistance in thinking through how this grant can be most useful to your students, please contact us and we’ll help you or connect you to an organization that can.

For more information, contact Deanna Niebuhr at Partnership for Children & Youth: Deanna@partnerforchildren.org or 510-830-4200 x1605.

The above information was provided by Children Now. Click here for their summary.

New Grant Opportunity for Schools and Communities to Improve School Climate

On September 23, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund: Learning Communities for School Success program into law. This new program will provide grants to local school districts to implement research-based strategies to improve school climate and to mitigate the school-to-prison pipeline.

Get Ready to Apply:

We encourage school districts and community organizations to start preparing now for this competitive grant opportunity.

A Request for Proposal process is expected to begin in early 2017.

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.