- After a year of planning and a full year of implementation, Philadelphia’s community schools are showing mixed results, but accomplishments among the first cohort of nine schools can be considered a “strong foundation for continued improvement,” according to an evaluation by Research for Action (RFA), a nonprofit educational research group.
- Championed by the city's mayor, Jim Kenney, and financed by a tax on sugary beverages, the plan was to have 25 community schools by 2020, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. An unsuccessful lawsuit over the tax slowed the implementation, and the mayor’s education office scaled the total number back to 20.
- While coordinators at the local school level are working with principals and have successfully brought new external partners to address students’ needs, the researchers find the coordinators are stretched too thin and that there has been little coordination and collaboration between the mayor’s office and the School District of Philadelphia. They also said students’ lack of awareness of the services available as well as families’ and community members’ mistrust of public schools are ongoing challenges.
Like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Kenney has made community schools a priority of his administration. Several districts across the country have expanded community schools to address students’ non-academic needs, and United Teachers of Los Angeles, which has threatened to strike, is calling for community schools as part of its negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
But community schools, according to RFA, are “remarkably complex endeavors, and success depends on the presence of an unusually comprehensive set of conditions.” Because of the multiple partners, agencies and structures involved, it can take longer than a few years to see results, in terms of better outcomes for students.
A “scaling up” guide from the Coalition for Community Schools identifies a series of stages and milestones involved in the process of expanding a community school initiative. They include: increasing visibility of the plan, defining the results community schools are expected to achieve, building political support, providing professional development and collecting data to measure progress. While the RFA report focuses on Philadelphia, it also provides extensive details on the variety of issues to consider in creating a strong community schools strategy, such as making sure services match what students and families need and considering how the services and programs support the school's overall goals.