Community Schools: A National Discussion on Academic, Health and Social Supports for Students and Families

Schools do not operate in total isolation from the communities in which they are located. Recognizing this, the Department of Education in conjunction with the Coalition for Community Schools held a national policy discussion in February to share the experiences of Community schools. Under the Department’s Full-Service Community Schools program, a total of 21 grantees receive nearly $10 million to collaborate with schools and community based organizations to provide holistic services to children, families and communities.

Community schools are a set of partnerships between schools and community based organizations to provide academics, health and social services to students and their families. They are viewed as a central location for members of the community to become engaged in the education process while accessing health and social resources.

During the policy discussion, local representatives from Evansville, Indiana; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Multnomah, Oregon shared how they are leveraging resources and utilizing strategic partnerships to improve outcomes for children, families, and community members.

According to Dr. Vince Bertram, superintendent of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, “Schools have become the center of the community and resources are allocated in a way that we can meet not just one-dimensional academic progress of our students, but everything that children need to meet their needs: emotional, social, physical, as well as their academic needs.”

Community challenges such as poverty, violence, poor physical health, and family instability can become education issues when left unaddressed. When schools and community partners collaborate to address these issues and align their resources to achieve common results, children are more likely to succeed academically, socially, and physically. Community Schools seek to address these challenges by connecting students, students’ family members, and community members with available services and opportunities, creating the conditions for students to achieve in school and beyond.

All children should have access to effective schools and strong systems of family and community support.  Effective schools create learning environments that support student academic success and foster student engagement.  When characterized by stable leadership and a strong instructional program, Community Schools have been associated with improved attendance and student achievement, increased family and community engagement, and improved student behavior and youth development.

Given the challenges in today’s economy, it is vital that public and private resources come together to maximize capacity and impact. Developing and maintaining strategic partnerships is imperative to creating the strong infrastructure and system-wide support needed for developing, implementing and sustaining effective schools.

Panelists at the February policy discussion included:

  • Dr. Vince Bertram, Superintendent, Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC)
  • Martin J. Blank, President, Institute for Educational Leadership and Director, Coalition for Community Schools
  • Dr. Cathlin Gray, Associate Superintendent, Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC)
  • Darlene Kamine, Executive Director of the Community Learning Center Institute
  • Julie Sellers, President of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers
  • Lolenzo Poe, Partnership Development Director of Portland Public Schools
  • Karl Logan, Principal, Lane Middle School, Portland, Oregon