CSS and NCCS: Partners in Building a Field and a Movement

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In our work at the National Center for Community Schools, one of the most frequently asked questions from colleagues around the country is this: “What is your relationship to the Coalition for Community Schools?” The simple answer is that we are partners—although that answer could apply to our organizations’ relationships with others in the field. So we decided to consult with Marty Blank, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership and staff director since its inception of the Coalition.  Here is his response:

The Children’s Aid Society was among the founding partners in the Coalition for Community Schools in 1997. Building on its work at I.S. 218 and other emerging community schools in New York, CAS leaders Phil Coltoff and Pete Moses had the vision to recognize that its efforts needed a national platform in order to influence education reform. Together with researcher and advocate Joy Dryfoos and Ira Harkavy at the Netter Center at the University of Pennsylvania, CAS became a founding partner in the coalition. Now based at the Institute for Educational Leadership, the coalition has expanded to include more than 220 partners, including 88 local community schools initiatives. The technical assistance that the National Center for Community Schools at Children’s Aid offers to local school and community leaders under Jane Quinn’s leadership has been pivotal to this expansion. NCCS also has been a stalwart ally in advocating for community schools among state and national policymakers. The coalition’s partnership with NCCS is part of the foundation on which the growth of the 21st century community schools movement has been built.

Marty’s response is totally in sync with our perspective. As one of the three founders of the coalition, The Children’s Aid Society has both contributed to and benefitted from the coalition’s work over the past 17 years. Our intent at the outset was to create a strong advocacy voice and vehicle for community schools at the federal level, especially within the U.S. Congress and the relevant federal agencies (U.S. departments of education, health and human services, and justice).  But, as the coalition’s partnerships and activities have expanded, so have the results for our organization. In addition to benefitting from its powerful and strategic advocacy efforts, Children’s Aid has received access to timely and relevant information, formal and informal networking opportunities, national forums and other convenings, publications and think-tank sessions.

These opportunities enhance The Children’s Aid Society’s local community schools practice as well as the capacity-building and technical assistance work provided through our National Center for Community Schools. For the past 20 years, NCCS has provided assistance to nearly all of the country’s major community schools initiatives. We have carried out this work through study visits to our community schools in New York City, as well as through on-site consultation and training in cities across the country. Many of the referrals for capacity-building services come from our colleagues at the coalition. Our working relationship is so close that we have even had several joint staff meetings, which have helped both organizations to deepen our understanding of one another’s supports and services as well as to become thinking partners on moving a shared agenda—that of making every school a community school. 

In keeping with this collaboration, we encourage all our readers to participate in the coalition’s upcoming National Forum, which will be held in Cincinnati from April 9-11.  All members of the NCCS team plan to participate; we will be sponsoring an exhibit and offering workshops on several topics, including a practical introduction to the community school strategy, working with homeless children in community schools, strategies for addressing chronic absence and the social return on investment in community schools. We hope to see you in Cincinnati!