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Strategic Support of Partnerships in Oakland Unified’s Full-Service Community Schools Initiative

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


This paper examines how districts can support the implementation and scaling of community school initiatives by facilitating strategic partnerships. It presents findings of a case study based in Oakland Unified School District (Oakland Unified), a relevant case for this investigation because it is home to a long-standing, Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS) initiative (Author et al., 2020). Historic levels of funding for community schools and community school initiatives forecast an expansion of community school approaches across the country (CDE, 2022; Author, 2021) and in California, in particular. As such, educational leaders must understand how to build, implement, and sustain high-quality community schools in policy and practice. This study helps build this understanding by examining how Oakland Unified’s investment in strategic partnerships has enabled the district to bring its FSCS initiative to scale and sustain its efforts for over a decade.

The central research question that guided this study was: 1) How does district-level infrastructure support the implementation of community schools? Within this broader aim, our research team examined the types of technical assistance provided by the district that allowed community schools to function as community schools. To explore these research objectives, the research team conducted interviews with district personnel as well as observations of district-level events such as planning meetings facilitated by district staff. The study also includes three school sites which were selected because of their strong instantiation of four community school pillars identified in the literature: integrated student supports, expanded and enriched learning time, active family and community engagement, and collaborative leadership practice (Author et al., 2017) and because of their record of improvement across several student outcome measures including suspension rates, graduation rates, rates of chronic absenteeism, and standardized achievement scores. The research team conducted school-level observations as well as interviews with school leaders, community school managers, teachers, and parents to learn about how district infrastructure and supports promoted school-site practices aligned with community school approaches.

Findings from this study indicate that Oakland Unified facilitates strategic partnerships at multiple levels, which have helped sustain the district’s community schools initiative. First, the district has facilitated a partnership with county-level agencies, a collaboration formalized by a 2004 master agreement that outlines each entity’s obligations, roles, and responsibilities. Oakland Unified uses the county-level partnership to provide a range of integrated services and supports for students and their families. Second, the district has developed a set of resources to support quality collaborations between schools and partner agencies. These include a Partnership Assessment Rubric, which provides language and tools to enable discussions at the school level about the role of partner organizations in supporting school endeavors, as well as an annual Letter of Agreement, which prompts discussion and agreement on specific aspects of the partnership on an annual basis. The district has also developed a tool to support annual evaluations of partnerships, which prompts reflections on key areas outlined in the Letter of Agreement, such as outcomes and achievements, partnership meetings, communication, and problem-solving.