NCCS Helps Detroit Public Schools Implement Community Schools as A Strategy for Change

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In the 20 years since our inception, The Children’s Aid Society National Center for Community Schools (NCCS) has witnessed a major trend—one that we describe as moving “from retail to wholesale.” Initially, we received requests from individual schools that wanted to transform themselves from traditional schools into community schools.  But over the intervening years, we found that, increasingly, we were hearing more from districts than from individual schools.  A recent example of this trend is our new work with the Detroit Public Schools (DPS).  This district has identified community schools as a preferred reform strategy as part of its current Neighborhood-Centered Quality Schools 2013-2017 Strategic Plan.  This effort seeks to reinvent and transform the city’s public school system, which is faced with numerous challenges, including slowly improving academic achievement levels and declining enrollment.  For example, over the past decade, the district has lost approximately two thirds of its enrollment. Deficits and declining state funding continue to make fewer resources available for critical programs.

“The transformation of Detroit Public Schools will require the dedication of our staff, students, parents, teachers and many partners in meeting the needs of Detroit students.  This strategic plan is just as much a call to action as it is an identification of a strategy,” says Roy S. Roberts, who served as DPS emergency manager at the time the plan was rolled out in April 2013.  Community schools have been identified as one of the district’s major reform strategies.

Two senior-level NCCS members, Director Jane Quinn and NCCS Director of Special Projects Lukas Weinstein, have already initiated a program of technical assistance that is funded by the Kresge Foundation.  Quinn made an initial technical assistance needs assessment visit in July and conducted an orientation for principals during that same visit.  She also provided planning tools and other materials as well as telephone and on-site consultation, in an effort to better understand the context of Detroit school reform and the relationship of the district’s plans for community schools to other reforms at the city and state levels.  In particular, DPS wants to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by Governor Rick Snyder’s Pathways to Potential initiative, a new program designed to help schoolchildren across the state by placing social workers directly into school buildings.  More recently, Quinn and Weinstein conducted training for newly hired community school coordinators and their partner principals at the district’s 21 community schools.  Future work will focus on capacity-building at the site level in these 21 schools as well as systems-building efforts at the district and city level.  

The NCCS team will help by:

  • creating a shared understanding within DPS and the broader community about the community schools strategy and its potential for improving student, family, school and community outcomes;
  • developing a financing model at the building and initiative levels;
  • assisting DPS fundraising efforts, particularly by sharing information about how community school initiatives across the country are financed using a variety of public and private sources;
  • building the capacity of principals and community school coordinators to forge effective relationships with one another and to conduct joint planning to address the unmet needs of students and their families;
  • creating a viable governance structure for the initiative;
  • developing a strategy and system for involving community partners in the work of DPS community schools;
  • providing concrete planning tools, including copies of our basic implementation handbook, Building Community Schools: A Guide for Action; and
  • continuing and deepening the community engagement process.