Community engagement is the process by which community agencies, organizations and individuals build ongoing, sustainable relationships that enable them to take collective action that will help the community attain its shared vision. Community engagement primarily focuses on the practice of moving communities towards change.
Robust and intentional community involvement is what distinguishes the community schools approach from other strategies. Mobilizing community resources increases opportunities for student learning and development which is at the heart of the community schools strategy. In a community schools setting, the ‘community’ is any group or person that has a genuine stake in the success of students, families and neighborhoods and resources, or gifts that can contribute.
For Community Schools Coordinators engaging community stakeholders takes the form of cultivating and managing strategic partnerships with multiple agencies and organizations, such as neighborhood and faith-based groups, higher education institutions, public agencies, or community-based organizations and community organizing groups and beyond. These relationships enhance the pool of opportunities and supports that can be provided at, or connected to a school site.
In turn, these collaborations create a culture of reciprocity where community stakeholders also have a voice in the decisions that impact the development of services and programs at the school site. The Coordinator is typically the intermediary between the community and school leadership. Therefore, building and maintaining strong and mutually fruitful relationships with partners, based on a common vision, joint planning and regular evaluation, are key duties of the Coordinator.
This paper outlines how school and community leaders develop a common vision for a community schools strategy and explores six key strategies that successful community school initiatives use to build effective partnerships with local government agencies, teachers’ unions, and other organizations. It begins by describing the elements of a community school strategy, and then draws on the experiences of several community school initiatives that use the following strategies to form and maintain key relationships.
Scaling Up School and Community Partnerships: The Community Schools Strategy builds on both practice and research to describe the what, why, and how of system-wide expansion of community schools. The guide is written for a wide audience and for communities at different points in planning for, implementing, and sustaining a community schools strategy.
The paper explores ways in which principals of community schools—and other principals who, though they may not yet identify their schools as community schools, are responding in a very similar manner—work successfully with community partners, families, and other key stakeholders to improve student outcomes.
This Institute for Educational Leadership report breaks new ground by helping educators and community leaders understand and respect the assets and talents that each brings to the goal of improving student learning. It presents several “sticking points” and identifies “rules of engagement” to facilitate better communication between school and community.