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Strategies to Support Full Implementation of Community Schools: Lessons From New Mexico

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


In 2018, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled in the Martinez/Yazzie lawsuit that the State of New Mexico was failing to provide a constitutionally-sufficient education to students from low-income backgrounds, who are Native American, have disabilities, or who are English language learners. Among the actions the legislature took in response was investing $28.9 million—since 2019—in community schools grant funding. Presenting findings from a qualitative case study, this paper investigates state-level strategies to support the community schools model in New Mexico.

Research on policy implementation indicates that schools face an enormous number of demands from varied sources, including federal and state governments, school boards and districts, unions, and the local community, on all aspects of schooling (Honig & Hatch, 2004). Competing priorities create “policy incoherence” and can hinder school improvement (Fuhrman, 1993). Therefore, it takes intentional efforts to “craft coherence,” which involves bottom-up/top-down negotiation to align structures, processes, roles, and systems and leverage them toward common goals (Spillane, et al. 2022). To explore opportunities for crafting policy coherence around the community schools strategy in New Mexico, between October 2022 and June 2023, researchers interviewed public officials, practitioners, advocates, and officials from other states that are advancing capacity-building strategies for community schools (N=30); observed more than 20 relevant public meetings; and reviewed documents and public websites. Interview transcripts, meeting minutes, and documents were coded and analyzed to understand the current policy landscape and to provide policy recommendations for a coordinated state-wide community schools effort.

Findings indicate that the state’s actions have made it a leader nationally in advancing community schools. The designation in statute of a multi-sector state body, including local community school content experts, culturally responsive content experts, and tribal leaders, to collaborate with the PED makes New Mexico unique in its implementation. Ongoing efforts exploring sustainability and capacity-building, spurred by House Memorial 44, present opportunities to deepen implementation, particularly in historically underserved communities. Our research identifies three strategies the state could consider:

1) Sustainable funding for community schools. Our research summarizes community schools funding approaches used by states, including competitive grant programs and entitlements, and offers key considerations to prioritize equitable funding distribution in New Mexico.

2) The use of indicators and data to support continuous improvement. Findings reveal an opportunity for the state to develop a whole child measurement system that includes flexibility for locally-determined indicators, as well as a need for technical assistance to support practitioners with the continuous improvement process.

3) A certification process for community schools. New Mexico may consider how certification can be a capacity building process that establishes common benchmarks and supportive infrastructure for community schools.

As states seek to invest in community school transformation strategies, findings from New Mexico showcase opportunities for how one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse states can craft policy coherence around the community schools strategy. Through highlighting three key considerations for supporting full implementation, this research can inform state-level approaches to improve the efficacy of community school investments.