A new book based on 15 years of data from public elementary schools in Chicago verifies the approach used by The Children’s Aid Society in its community schools in New York City since March of 1992. Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2010) outlines five critical ingredients of effective school reform:
- Strong principal leadership that is focused on instruction and inclusive of others;
- A welcoming attitude toward parents and formation of positive connections with the community;
- Development of professional capacity, such as teacher professional development and fostering of collaboration;
- A learning climate that is safe, welcoming, stimulating and nurturing to all students; and
- Strong instructional guidance and materials.
This formulation mirrors The Children’s Aid Society’s “developmental triangle,” published in our 2005 book, Community Schools in Action: Lessons from a Decade of Practice (Oxford University Press), which calls for a strong instructional program, expanded learning opportunities through enrichment and services designed to remove barriers to children’s learning and healthy development. Children’s Aid conceptualized the triangle after reviewing scores of existing research studies from multiple disciplines, concluding that effective educational reform strategies needed to address both teaching (excellent instruction, rigorous curriculum, timely assessments aligned with instruction) and learning (student health, wellness and engagement; plentiful opportunities to apply academic knowledge through challenging enrichment activities; support and encouragement from parents).
The community schools strategy applies this research through a comprehensive, integrated approach to education that extends the hours, services and partnerships of traditional public schools. Community schools are open all day and well into the evening, six and even seven days per week, year-round. They offer before- and after-school programs, summer camps, adult education, parent involvement and leadership, early childhood, medical, dental, mental health and social services. Many supports, services and opportunities are available to community residents, including adult education and community-wide celebrations and special events. The results from the work of The Children’s Aid Society and our colleagues across the country are powerful—improved achievement, better student and teach attendance, increased parent engagement, decreased community violence. Why isn’t every school a community school?
Assistant Executive Director for Community Schools
Director, National Center for Community Schools
The Children’s Aid Society