County offices play a vital role in supporting community schools

With California forging ahead in the establishment and expansion of community schools statewide, county offices of education are poised to play a major role in the support of local educational agencies making these challenging but crucial shifts.

Included in the state’s California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP) — a seven-year, $3 billion effort to prioritize the whole-child approach to education — are planning and implementation grants and a three-year, $12 million grant to launch a lead technical assistance center (TAC) to assist school communities.

The Alameda COE was appointed lead TAC during the May State Board of Education meeting. In this role, the county office will build content and overarching methodology for CCSPP technical assistance; build a developmental implementation rubric to articulate community school implementation benchmarks; and facilitate a community of practice among the regional TACs. The University of California, Los Angeles Center for Community Schooling is assisting the Alameda office as co-lead of the technical assistance center.

As lead TAC, Alameda COE will also support the regional centers responsible for outreach and technical assistance to potential applicants as needed before or after awarding a contract under the CCSPP; and the development of community school resources, sharing of best practices and data collection. In collaboration with the regional TACs, Alameda COE will take a leadership role in:

  • Supporting the California Department of Education in collecting and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data to assess and evaluate the implementation of community schools and the overall effectiveness of the CCSPP.
  • Supporting the CDE to align the CCSPP technical assistance system with the Statewide System of Support and other school improvement and professional development support systems.

Implementation is key and collaboration at all levels will be essential, SBE Vice President Cynthia Glover-Woods said during the meeting in which Alameda COE was named lead TAC.

“Collaboration between our lead technical assistance centers, those regional TACs when they are identified, as well as the county offices that are supporting the LEAs and the LEAs themselves will be essential,” Glover-Woods said following a public comment period in which stakeholders repeatedly cited the importance of local engagement. “Even more essential is what we heard echoed many times in the public comments, which is that [there be] authentic collaboration with parents and families and students and communities.”

The foundation of California community schools

Community schools are known for providing resources such as medical and dental care, as well as mental and behavioral health services, but the model centers on a combination of academics with a wide range of vital in-house services, supports and opportunities that are integral to promoting children’s learning and overall development. Community schools prioritize strategic structures for integrating academics and collaborative leadership with youth and community development, health and social services, and community engagement in alignment with the goals and values of California’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports to organize campuses around the academic, behavioral, social-emotional and mental health needs of students.

The State Board approved at its January meeting the CCSPP Framework, which details the key roles and responsibilities of local, county, regional and state partners; best practices; four cornerstone commitments and more. Community schools are defined in statute as public schools with “strong and intentional community partnerships ensuring pupil learning and whole child and family development,” including the following four pillars:

  • Integrated student supports, which can improve student success by meeting their academic, physical, social-emotional and mental health needs.
  • Family and community engagement, which involves authentically engaging with families and actively tapping into the expertise and knowledge of community members and organizations to serve as true partners in supporting and educating students.
  • Collaborative leadership and practices for educators and administrators that establish a culture of professional learning, trust and shared responsibility for outcomes in a manner that includes students, families and community members.
  • Extended learning time and opportunities that include academic support, enrichment and real-world learning opportunities such as internships or project-based learning. Expanded learning opportunities can also include tutoring and other learning supports during school hours.

The framework also identifies four equity-driven cornerstone commitments focused on:

  • Assets-driven and strength-based practice that views students, their families and their community through the lens of their assets and strengths and value the collective wisdom derived from experience, family, history and culture.
  • Racially just and restorative school climates that embrace all students in the totality of school interactions.
  • Powerful, culturally proficient and relevant instruction that prioritizes experiential learning that deepens connection to and engagement with the community.
  • Shared decision making and participatory practices that involve genuine engagement in decisions about school climate, curriculum and services among all stakeholders, and prioritize transparency and shared accountability to ensuring information is both available and accessible.

COEs play an important role in convening local government service agencies to support community school initiatives on behalf of all the school districts in the county. This may include supporting more efficient programs, systems and resource allocation changes to avoid the complication of each school district negotiating its own partnership with county agencies.