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Report

Community Schools Forward: Technical assistance needs assessment

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As federal, state, and local governments marshal unprecedented resources to support the recovery from the disruption and harm inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a significant and growing interest in the community school strategy. Community schools are an opportunity for educational renewal and reimagining and are only possible through having the necessary technical assistance resources. This report summarizes the findings of a national study exploring community school technical assistance needs and assets.  

community school practitioners 

This study has three guiding questions:

  1. What are the current challenges, best practices, and emerging trends in community schools? 
  2. How are technical assistance, capacity development, and onboarding for new employees in community schools currently provided?
  3. What type of technical assistance, coaching, and learning do education practitioners want and need?  

Respondents were recruited through the National Center for Community Schools listserv, the Coalition for Community Schools network announcements, the Full Service Community Schools (FSCS) staff communications at the U.S. Department of Education to their grantees, and individual outreach. The planning team from the National Center for Community Schools developed an interview protocol that was implemented in 30- to 60-minute sessions with 28 individuals. Participants included seven district leaders, three technical assistance providers, two researchers, five FSCS project managers, and seven community school coordinators. 

Study findings 

The challenges that participants identified were staffing shortages and absences due to COVID-19, lack of model clarity, difficulties achieving collaborative leadership and overcoming deficit mindsets, barriers to equity, and imperfect data systems and practices. Strategies to address these challenges included developing a common language for all stakeholders, creating advisory and steering committees, and utilizing continuous improvement for collaborative problem-solving. As the community school landscape expands, community school technical assistance providers would do well to offer support and guidance in a variety of contexts and modalities. Technical assistance should prioritize:

  • Model clarity for all stakeholders: ensuring all stakeholders have the same understanding of community schools and their role within the model.
  • Structures and systems for community voice and collaborative leadership: developing mechanisms that invite democratic processes within a community school.
  • Development of relational and strategic skills for coordinators: relationally supporting coordinators to leverage a system in which they have very little formal power, build connections with the school and external partners, facilitate the system for inclusion, and cultivate trust with stakeholders; strategically guiding coordinators to analyze and present data, and manage projects and budgets.
  • Asset-based thinking: cultivating a perspective that focuses on the strengths of the students, families, and community.
  • Sustainability: navigating multiple funding sources and “telling the story” to funders in a way that accurately reflects the work; developing a model or network that is supported by the community and leadership, and not vulnerable to leadership changes.
  • Reimagining systems for equity: reviewing existing school processes and structures to determine if the current approach is meeting all student, family, and community needs; changing those systems that are not meeting all stakeholders’ needs.
  • Data systems and data culture for continuous improvement: developing systems for data collection that capture accurate data that are connected to identified outcomes and aligned with a logic model; creating a positive and collaborative environment where problems can be solved using data and inquiry.

Transforming school climates, systems, and structures is lengthy and complex work. The challenges described in this study will not be solved in silos, and thus technical assistance providers should align and join forces as the landscape of community schools continues to evolve. Community schools are strongest when they collaborate and leverage the best thinking from all stakeholders—training and support for community schools should follow this same blueprint.

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Acknowledgments:

This report was published as part of the Community Schools Forward project. This project is a collaboration between the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution (CUE), the Children’s Aid National Center for Community Schools (NCCS), the Coalition for Community Schools at IEL (CCS), and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI).

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