The Coalition for Community Schools applauds Secretary Duncan’s call for increased family and community engagement in the business of improving schools. The Secretary has provided the education community an opportunity to craft a cogent community engagement strategy that mobilizes the array of individuals, institutions and other stakeholders that are invested in the success of our schools and have the resources to fuel achievement. We know that strong schools require strong communities and that strong communities require strong schools. Community leaders and residents must have a voice in the decisions that affect student achievement and also must pool their resources to work towards better outcomes for youth.
In our experience the community schools approach is the most effective and efficient vehicle to incorporate the community in the work of the school. Community schools bring together schools and community partners (community-based organizations, family, health and mental health agencies, higher education institutions, and others) to support student success. They are built on five pillars: strong early childhood development experiences, comprehensive services for student and their families, after school and other extended learning opportunities, deep parent and community involvement, and an engaging, real world curriculum. Across the country, schools and communities in Kansas City, Chicago, Tulsa, Cincinnati, and other places, have chosen community schools as the vehicle for family and community engagement, ensuring that our youth graduate high school ready for college, careers, and citizenship.
The community school strategy is used across the country as the vehicle for family and community engagement. In Cincinnati, the district has engaged every neighborhood in a discussion about the future of their schools. Through deep conversations with residents, parents, and local institutions, Cincinnati’s communities helped decided what strategies schools should use, how to make the most of community assets, and how to rebuild aging school buildings. Cincinnati has continued to engage the community by making every school a community school. In Chicago, which has a long history of community control over schools, community schools partner with lead agencies in their communities to mobilize resources towards improving student outcomes. In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, an anchor institution, works with communities to improve the conditions for learning at schools while also strengthening communities.
The Secretary and Congress can help communities and parents turn around schools by including specific language for family and community engagement through community schools in all the Titles of a reauthorized ESEA. These principles are currently reflected in the Full-Service Community Schools Act introduced by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) as well as the recently introduced DIPLOMA Act by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
When families, schools, and the community mobilize for results using the community schools strategy, communities are strengthened, families are engaged, and schools improve.