As community school advocates and leaders, we hail from very different professional backgrounds: law (Marty); K–12 education (Lisa); social work (Jane); and higher education (Ira). When we enlisted the assistance of journalist David Goodman, we added a fifth discipline as well as a colleague who provided invaluable writing and research capacity to our team. We have come to understand that this interdisciplinary approach is mirrored across the community school field—a terrain that creates “new institutional arrangements,” according to our Stanford University colleague Milbrey McLaughlin. These arrangements, often seen in the form of strategic partnerships between schools and other community resources, are rooted in local knowledge, creativity, and a commitment to equality, democracy, and justice.
Some readers might wonder why four people who have reached retirement age are still fired up about the work of community schools. Our response: How can we not stay fired up, knowing what we know?
Described by a leading urban superintendent as “a strategy for organizing school and community resources around student success,” community schools respond to several of our country’s most serious crises: the COVID pandemic, rampant income inequality, loss of faith in democratic principles and institutions, and racial injustice. We explore these underlying realities throughout the text. We chose to tell the story of the current generation of community schools (roughly 1990–2022) through the lens of six mature initiatives located across the country: the state of Florida, and the cities of Albuquerque, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York City, and Oakland. This approach allows our colleagues to explain their local contexts, choices, and innovations while also, we hope, inspiring readers to understand that when we organize the right partners to do the right thing for students, families, and the community, we can achieve systemic change.
In addition to highlighting these local stories, we describe in the initial and concluding sections how work at the national level has connected and supported local implementation, advanced supportive public policies, increased visibility for the strategy, and enlisted strong and varied partners. These ongoing efforts—including the work of the Coalition for Community Schools, the Children’s Aid National Center for Community Schools, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships—have become more important than ever, as new and substantial federal and state initiatives provide welcome financial resources to the country’s highest-need schools and communities.
As community school veterans, we have witnessed a concerted multi-decade campaign to discredit and disinvest in public education. We have come to understand that this campaign has deep and tangled roots that include systemic and structural racism. And poor children of every color continue to face obstacles far beyond those of their more well-off peers. The COVID pandemic served both to highlight these inequities and to exacerbate them.
Despite these challenges, we offer a story of hope. Our Cincinnati colleague Darlene Kamine calls community schools “a quiet revolution”—a movement created out of local democratic practice that is changing outcomes for current and future generations of American students and their families by expanding opportunities for positive development. We hope that the choices we have made in putting our book together will make it useful to a broad set of stakeholders, including district-level leaders, principals, teachers who are change agents, community organizations and universities that have a direct connection to schools, policymakers, advocacy groups, parents, and other concerned citizens. With so much at stake, we should embrace a viable and proven solution that addresses so many of our contemporary challenges—challenges that require a true revolution in how we, as a society, choose to allocate our abundant resources.
The work of community schools brought us together some 25 years ago—and has kept us together as colleagues and thought partners. We have had many opportunities to observe the growth, successes, and challenges of the community school movement as it evolved from a “boutique” school improvement strategy to one that is now embraced by policymakers and practitioners across the country. Tracing a movement’s evolution while you are in its midst is a daunting, perhaps even foolhardy, task but we decided to take it on nonetheless, hoping that our five different perspectives would keep the enterprise trustworthy and useful.
—Martin Blank, Ira Harkavy, Jane Quinn, and Lisa Villarreal
In memory of Joy Dryfoos (1925-2012), whose research, activism, and commitment to children and youth fueled the modern community schools movement