U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has repeatedly called for American schools to become “the centers of their communities,” which he defines as schools that offer a comprehensive array of student and family supports, are open longer hours and more days than traditional public schools and partner with community resources. At a recent national conference sponsored by The Children’s Aid Society, Duncan observed that “making every school a community school — that’s got to be our collective vision.”
Realizing this vision will require an unprecedented level of capacity-building, as schools and community partners learn how to work together in new ways, to share leadership and change their practice.
Over the past 15 years, The Children’s Aid Society has created capacity-building infrastructure and expertise both locally and nationally, in efforts to support quality in our direct service work and to share innovation and best practice among our colleagues around the country. Locally in New York City, we instituted monthly peer learning networks for our Community School Directors, Program Directors and Parent Coordinators; created an annual summer institute for Directors; developed a community schools orientation system for new full-time staff; prepared a community schools procedures manual; and built a supervisory structure and management team whose goal is to get our sites “what they need when they need it.”
This special issue of Partnership Press explores community schools capacity-building from several additional perspectives, including nationally and internationally. We are especially excited to highlight the work in England, where several years ago the Blair government created national policy designed to make every school an Extended School (the British equivalent of Community School) by 2010 — a goal that, by all accounts, will be met on or ahead of schedule, owing in large part to major public investments in capacity-building. The United States has much to learn from this work, and we are happy to be able to share a few highly transferable lessons from “across the pond.”