Scaling Up School and Community Partnerships: The Community Schools Strategy

A thriving system of community schools focuses joint community and school resources on student success. Making that happen at scale is the subject of this guide.

It is nearly impossible to imagine that, in just three years, a school that had experienced a dropout rate of 84 percent by grade 10 managed to transform itself into a school with a graduation rate of 100 percent. But that is the story of Cincinnati’s Oyler Community Learning Center, which is one in a system of community schools that has helped raise the citywide graduation rate from 51 percent in 2000 to 83 percent in 2009. With the school board’s 2002 commitment to make every school a community school, Cincinnati has built citywide structures that foster the collaborative provision of high-quality learning opportunities and supports for students. Cincinnati is one of dozens of communities across the country that is scaling up a system of community schools.

Why? In simplest terms, the community schools strategy provides a coherent framework for all children to succeed in college, career, and life. More pragmatically, in today’s test-oriented school culture, an effective community school offers the opportunities that all children deserve and helps remove barriers to learning; it ensures a foundation for principals to lead, teachers to teach, and students to learn.

A thriving system of community schools focuses joint community and school resources on student success. Making that happen at scale is the subject of this guide.

Dr. Jerry Weast, former superintendent of the Montgomery County, Maryland schools, emphasizes that change is about creating structures and cultures that advance change. That notion applies here. Typically, some structures need to be put in place to support a system of community schools, but, unless a culture is in place to support all children, community schooling efforts will fall short of their goals.

The community schools strategy can have its broadest, deepest, and most sustainable impact when a school system and all of its community partners use the strategy in many schools. A multisite effort embeds the vision of a community school in the principles and practices, beliefs, and expectations of its schools, partner agencies, families, and community members. As the effort scales up, the community schools vision becomes the new culture. In that new culture, individuals and organizations alike share the work, responsibilities, and benefits of improved results for children, families, schools, and communities.

There is no one path for advancing a community schools agenda. Sometimes a citywide organization such as a United Way chapter, a county or city, a non-profit agency, or a school district steps up to create an opportunity for collaboration and provides an anchor presence in a set of schools. Often, a local community school serves as a template for expansion. Many schools already operate with some of the typical elements of a community school—after-school programs, health and mental health services, parent leadership, service learning, a preschool program, a tutoring or mentoring program, and/or adult education programs—but they do not undertake such activities with the explicit goal of fostering synergy among partners and the school to achieve better results. This guide helps you determine your current status, work from your assets, and build toward your shared vision of a system of community schools.

This guide is designed to be interactive. Icons are present throughout the guide and allow you to "See" what others are doing (e.g., stories and video), "Share" your own stories and resources, and "Discuss" with others (e.g., ask questions of the field) to better experience the stages of scale up.

For the full text of the Guide please see the web site of the Coalition for Community Schools (USA):

Scaling Up School and Community Partnerships: The Community School Strategy is the second document in a series titled, Building Capacity for Community Schools. The purpose of this series is to help practitioners and policymakers develop the capacity and the resources to create more effective community schools around the country.


The Coalition for Community Schools, 2011.

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