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Scaling Community Schools: A Framework for School Transformation

Sun, April 14, 1:15 to 2:45pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Floor: Level 100, Room 113B


Researchers and policymakers increasingly recognize community schools as an evidence-based strategy for improving a range of student outcomes. When well-implemented, community schools are positioned to address educational inequality. Studies in New York and Tulsa have found that community schools improve student attendance and feelings of connectedness, reduce exclusionary discipline practices, and over the long term improve academic achievement (Johnston, et al., 2020; Adams, 2020). A research review identified common features across effective community schools: integrated student supports, collaborative leadership, active family engagement, and enriched and expanded learning opportunities (Author et al., 2017). At the same time, each community school differs in response to the assets, needs, vision, and goals of its local community. The hyper-local nature of community has made it difficult to “consistently describe and advance this comprehensive approach to broadscale systemic reform” (Kimner, 2023).

COVID-19 brought the value of the community schools strategy to the fore. The growing popularity of community schools along with a expanding evidence base on how young people best learn and develop created momentum to align around a field- and evidence-informed a framework for high-quality implementation. This paper is the culmination of that work. It presents a framework developed in consultation with over 700 practitioners, non-profit leaders, teachers, coordinators, researchers, and policy makers. Importantly, it synthesizes long-standing experience from practitioners, existing models of community schools, and recent research on the science of learning and development and successful school reform (Darling-Hammond et al., 2019).

The framework highlights the inter-personal, organizational, and institutional features of the community school strategy, all of which necessitate rethinking roles and relationships, teaching, and learning. It begins with a common definition: community schools are a whole child and whole school strategy that transforms a school into a place where educators, local community members, families, and students work together to strengthen conditions for student learning and healthy development (Authors, 2023). As partners, they organize in- and out-of-school resources, supports, and opportunities so that young people thrive (Warren, 2005). From there it outlines the goal of community schools (students flourishing in thriving school communities), the partnerships instrumental to driving implementation (, enabling conditions like trust and inclusive decision-making (Bryk, 2002), six key practices for implementation, and describe the supportive infrastructure that need to be in place to sustain the strategy.

Community schools are not static entities; instead, they are constantly adapting and setting priorities based on intentionally collected, actionable data (Dryfoos & Maguire, 2019; Lawson, 2010). This framework strikes a “tight/loose” balance that allows for community school innovation, while ensuring implementation and planning are grounded in common standards. Continuous improvement becomes the mechanism through which the strategy functions, providing structure to assess implementation and build capacity, while drawing on the support of the entire school community to develop and maintain a responsive, high-quality community school. For students to thrive, schools must cultivate “whole child” environments that address physical, cognitive, academic, and social/emotional development. This community schools framework serves as a guide for a research and practice-based approach to community schools design and implementation.