“Coalition for Community Schools” Are a Growing School Reform

Today we turn the spotlight on the school reform idea of community schools. Although it might be assumed that schools were always community products, this particular reform emphasis is linked to the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Community Schools provide demonstration sites for enacting many of the newest features of the law. The leaders of this reform are:

Coalition for Community Schools • Institute for Educational Leadership • • 4301 Connecticut Ave, NW • Suite 100 • Washington, DC 20008

Referenced below directly from one of the reform’s websites are some of the features and characteristics of the reform including an introduction to the ideas of the reform, some community schools research and its link to further reading, and the 9 guiding principles:

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes…encourages states and districts to “provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.” The law also emphasizes a “well-rounded education,” expands the indicators states and districts must report or be accountable for to include measures of school quality and compels leaders to examine conditions for learning and resource inequities. In short, the new law encourages us to educate the whole child—and the community schools strategy with its emphasis on deep stakeholder engagement—offers a framework to meet this challenge.

A community school is a public school—the hub of its neighborhood, uniting educators, community partners, and families to provide all students with top-quality academics, enrichment, health and social services, and opportunities to learn and thrive. Through strategic relationships among families, educators and community partners, community schools embrace the whole child. Key opportunities found in every community school—powerful learning, integrated health and social supports, and authentic family and community engagement—help to develop students’ cognitive, social, emotional, and civic capacities.

Community schools are student-centered: they listen to young people, what they need and aspire to, and incorporate their voices into curricula and decisions about the school. Partnership is the key to community schools; schools do not go it alone. They engage other stakeholders and strategically partner with families and community organizations to provide students with a full range of opportunities and supports (Community Schools).

In this brief we have organized the major components of a community school into a comprehensive framework. Below is a summary of these components, followed by more detailed descriptions in the brief:

The community schools framework puts students at the center, listening to their concerns and aspirations, and responding to their life circumstances.

Being student-centered at a community school means offering three kinds of opportunities: powerful learning, integrated health and social supports, and authentic family and community engagement.

Undergirding these opportunities are a set of collaborative practices that tie families, educators and community partners together: iclusive leadership, shared ownership for results, strategic partnerships, resource coordination and data-driven planning.

Capacity-building supports help put these collaborative practices to work: all-stakeholder leadership development, professional development, and coaching for continuous improvement .

Buttressing all these components of community schools is deep stakeholder engagement and participation. Stakeholder engagement builds relational trust, strengthens an equity focus, and supports continuous improvement.

This community schools framework leads to the following results: college, career, and civic-ready students; strong families; and healthy communities (Community Schools Brief Introduction).


1. PURSUE EQUITY—Educational excellence and equity are inseparable. Community schools work actively to identify and confront policies, practices and cultures that that keep students of different backgrounds and races from achieving equitable outcomes. Community schools proactively and intentionally empower those typically disempowered by barriers to participation.

2. INVEST IN A WHOLE-CHILD APPROACH TO EDUCATION—Meaningful teaching and learning embraces but goes beyond mastery of core academic subjects to include youth development principles; holding high expectations for children, youth, and adults; and developing their social-emotional, health, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.

3. BUILD ON COMMUNITY STRENGTHS TO ENSURE CONDITIONS FOR LEARNING— Community schools utilize the assets of the entire community—including the gifts of people who live and work there, parents, families, residents and community partners to create the optimal learning conditions for each student.

4. USE DATA AND COMMUNITY WISDOM TO GUIDE PARTNERSHIPS, PROGRAMS, AND PROGRESS—Reliable and community-specific data, coupled with the wisdom of youth, families and residents, guides how educators and community partners work together to achieve measurable results.

5. COMMIT TO INTERDEPENDENCE AND SHARED ACCOUNTABILITY—Student success requires explicit investment in collaborative planning and implementation between educators and community partners and across program areas and disciplines. Mutually agreed upon results and related indicators, as well as written agreements enable educators and community partners to hold each other accountable.

6. INVEST IN BUILDING TRUSTING RELATIONSHIPS—Deep collaboration takes dedicated effort and time, and becomes evident in the daily formal and informal social exchanges within a school community and between the school and the broader community. Trusting relationships fuel school transformation by helping to create a nurturing safe, respectful climate where caring adults, families and students come to rely on each other as part of a shared approach to student success.

7. FOSTER A LEARNING ORGANIZATION—Improved student learning depends on a school community where educators and community partners work together towards continuous improvement. Time and support are available for individual and collective reflection and adjustment as well as shared learning and professional development, to facilitate responsiveness to student needs (Community School Principles).

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Share this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More from EdSpeak

Discover the tools and strategies modern schools need to help their students grow.

Subscribe to EdSpeak!

The SchoolWorks Lab Blog, connecting teaching to policy through research.