Improving Academic Performance through Partnerships

Martin J. Blank, the executive director of the Washington-based Coalition for Community Schools, discussed the role of groups outside of schools—community organizations and health care providers, for example—in helping improve the lives of students in the nation’s low-performing public schools.

October 15, 2008

Improving Academic Performance through Partnerships

  • Martin J. Blank is the executive director of the Washington-based Coalition for Community Schools, an organization of local, state, and national partners that is leading a drive to focus the national debate over how to best improve academic performance and close the achievement gap by addressing what happens outside the classroom.

Lesli A. Maxwell (Moderator):

Hello everyone and welcome to today’s chat with Martin J. Blank, the executive director of the Washington-based Coalition for Community Schools. Today’s discussion focuses on the role of groups outside of schools -- community organizations and health care providers, for example -- in helping improve the lives of students in the nation’s low-performing public schools. I am Lesli Maxwell, a staff writer for Education Week and I’ll be your moderator. We’ve got lots of great questions already lined up, so let’s get started.

Question from Doug Conboy, Supt. of Schools, Mora School District:

How foolish is it to expect schools to close an achievement gap when the reason for that gap has nothing to do with school issues? Government is spinning this issue to take the focus away from the real problem, poverty!

Martin J. Blank:

Doug, poverty is certainly part of the equation as we state in The Community Agenda. And indeed we need a national effort to combat poverty. But, at the same time we have to act now, as you would agree, to educate the students who are in our schools. We believe that schools and communities working together can ameliorate the impact of poverty and enable students to succeed. That is what community schools are designed to do. We should be combating poverty through national economic policy and supporting poor children and their families through community schools.

Question from Dr. Donald M. Clark, President Emeritus, National Association for Industry-Education Cooprationn:

Community Partnerships while good intentioned, resemble a fragmented , uncoordinated, and ad hoc linkage for fostering school improvement. Have you read or heard of the Industry-Education model that focuses on systemic school improvement based on the processes continuous improvement and measurable quality? How can school system improvement be achieved with more partnerships that represent more projects and programs laid on top of a failing public school system? Student-oriented projects which are the focus of community partnerships, are nice and needed, Yet, what do they accomplish in helping create high performance sustainable public school systems which should be the number one priority in linking our schools to the New Economy? The school-business partnerships craze during the past two decades have been failure in school system improvement. The Industry-education Council community based alliances composed of the leaders from business, labor, government and public and post secondary education -- the community power structure is the model that has been established in communities throughout the US and Canada,

Martin J. Blank:

Our approach is indeed systemic Don. We are not talking about ad hoc partnerships, but rather sustained relationships between schools and lead partner organizations that stay in schools for the long haul. Some prior partnership efforts failed to see the school as a whole place where partners with different expertise and capacity work together with the school in an integrated manner to get results. We are not talking about add-ons, but thinking about our schools in a totally different way.

Question from Parent, Bethesda MD:

The point that school mental health services for low-income kids is often their only avenue to access services is fairly well understood, along with their value in building resiliency and protective assets. I have a child attending a therapeutic school, am so I’m interested in learning how coordinated school-mental health services might prevent children from requiring more intensive or more restrictive services, regardless of family income, because mental illness does not discriminate. Do school-mental health professionals actually influence school staff re: the need for specific, IEP services, and do they facilitate appropriate placements decisions for children with serious emotional disabilities? Do they have to work for separate agencies to provide an independent perspective? The integration of school-based therapeutic services has been incredibly valuable to my child-- really saving her life I believe, besides educating her, but it’s quite expensive. Are there studies about the return on investment for various models?

Martin J. Blank:

There has been a significant expansion in school-based mental health services in recent years in recognition of the problems you reference. The best models help teachers create a healthier environment throughout the school and in classrooms and address individual students needs. For more information go to these websites: or

Question from Jan Creveling, Sr. Planner, Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative, Tulsa, OK:

Would like to know the role that a community school coordinator plays in the community schools model.

Martin J. Blank:

Effective community school initiatives typically employ an individual to mobilize community resources and integrate them with the life and work of the schools. This is a real job and research shows that it makes a real difference in results for students. See the latest research report from Communities in Schools: Moreover, these staffers take the burden off of principals to manage the array of community partner programs and services in the school and enable them to focus on their core academic mission. Community Schools Coordinators, also called Resource Coordinators or Site Managers, are being employed by lead partner agencies in many instances and by schools themselves. Take a look at various job descriptions at:

Question from Laura Bornfreund, Fordham Fellow, Common Core:

Two questions: What are your thoughts on bringing the community school model to scale? And, what role, if any, should the federal government play?

Martin J. Blank:

Laura, we have several places that are scaling up their community schools work. Chicago now has 150, Portland/Multnomah County have 54. Evansville is pursuing a system-wide strategy as is Tukwila, Washington. You can learn more about these places in our report Growing Community Schools at

Experience shows that there are several key factors in going to scale with community schools: 1) A strong commitment by school and community leadership to scale up the work; we have that with Arne Duncan and Mayor Daley in Chicago. 2) A willingness to find catalytic funding to support community schools, with a particular emphasis on funding a community school coordinator; county and city funds are used for this purpose in the SUN Schools of Multnomah County and the City of Portland. 3) A constituency of parents and community residents who want their schools to be places where their children get the support and opportunities they need to succeed. Check out the Local Investment Commission in Kansas City in this regard.

As for the federal role, drop down to the next question and see my response.

Question from Lisa Doctolero, Parent, Mt.Diablo Unified School District, CA:

How can the Community Agenda be implemented in either an Obama or McCain administration?

Martin J. Blank:

With the election upon us this is a very important question, Lisa. Community schools are a nonpartisan strategy and they are cropping up in red, blue and purple states. There is an important role for the federal government in meeting the need for and expanding the presence of community schools and scaling them up. The demand is growing as we saw recently that the Department of Education received 450 applications for 10 Full Service Community Schools this past spring.

The following is the Coalition’s 5-point plan for federal action. • Include incentives for partnerships leading to community schools in existing programs serving students through funding from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and other federal agency programs. We must break down the silos of categorical programs and incentives to make this happen. • Encourage the development of local decision making groups – you might call them Community Learning Councils -- where stakeholders from across the organizations concerned with student success, including representatives of parents and community residents, think and plan together. The federal government should not prescribe who should be on these groups, but, rather, encourage their development. • Make funding contingent upon schools and communities having an agreed upon, clear set of the results– not just academic results – but results related to physical, social, emotional and civic development as well family and community health. Each program in the community school should show how it contributes to these results. • Ensure that all professional development programs that have federal support prepare educators and other professional to work effectively and cohesively with families and communities. • Authorize and fund legislation like the Full Service Community Schools Act. Sure resources are scarce, but community schools excel at leveraging existing resources in extraordinary and innovative ways. This investment can leverage services from existing agencies and mobilize America’s huge volunteer resources to help children and youth succeed.

Question from Renee DeArce, Parent, Concord, CA:

How can we justify the additional expense of community partnerships when the country and its schools are going broke? Won’t this increase our taxes?

Martin J. Blank:

Community partnerships leverage or use existing resources/funding already tapped by schools, Renee. Communities have so much to offer schools that are not yet aligned with what is happening in the school. In community schools such as the ones in the Bay area are making it a priority to think smarter, not harder about what they have to work with funding wise. They are reaching out to find resources coming to them from parents and the community. Legislation like the Full Service Community Schools Act promotes the concept of leveraging resources to make sure that what schools have already is used most effectively and efficiently in support of children and youth.

Question from Carlos Azcoitia, Founding Principal,Spry/Community Links HS:

What are the advantages of a PreK through HS community school for students and families? How do we develop effective Principals in community schools? How do immigrant families benefit from community schools?

Martin J. Blank:

A purposeful connection of Pre-K through graduation is emerging in several places. Cincinnati is an interesting example where the community engagement and planning process for community learning centers (aka community schools) led the local Appalachian population to ask for PreK-12 schools because their children were being lost in larger high schools. The school board agreed and moved forward with the idea. These schools have several advantages: a) their connections to the community ensures a stronger focus on parent involvement; b) fewer transitions for students limits the potential for students to be lost; and c) students of different ages can interact and older students in a positive way such as mentoring.

I was visiting a community school, Burroughs Elementary, in Chicago last week which serves a largely Latino immigrant population. Latina mothers who were present talked about how the school was so welcoming to them; staff spoke their language, offered adult education classes to help them learn English and learn how the community school system works; and professional were present to help them deal with economic and family challenges faced by those seeking a new life in our country. Burroughs won an award from the Federal for Community Schools in Illinois this year. To learn more:

As for principal preparation, the sad fact is the most principals say they learn a tiny bit about work with families and next to nothing about how to work with community. This is beginning to change but the narrow focus on academics has made the path harder. Principals needs to learn to map &tap their community’s assets, to work with people from diverse cultures, and to partner effectively to achieve common goals. Take a look at our publication, Community and Family Engagement; Principals Share What Works on our homepage and our resource for principals:

Question from Carolyn Evans, CALM Society & VIBE Parent Volunteer:

What are the best practices for parent engagement in eradicating achievement gaps by elementary, middle school, and high school students? What are some funding sources for innovative parent and school partnerships? What are the best metrics to gauge progress via community/parent/school partnerships?

Martin J. Blank:

Carolyn, there are lots of good practices, but here are a few that are most important: 1) foster a welcoming attitude among all school staff towards parents and make sure they respect parents from different backgrounds and cultures. 2) Encourage home visits – nothing substitutes for understanding the challenges that parents face as much as visiting someone’s home. 3) Offer opportunities that parents want, not what professional think they need. Check out the book from Anne Henderston et al, Beyond the Bake Sale for more tips (including fundraising tips). You can get it through Amazon or here:

As for funding we have to think about every funding source as a resource for parents and school partnerships. Health providers have to ask how children are doing academically, preventive services workers have to know how to connect parents to schools; after school personnel have to help parents get to know their child’s teacher. This kind of thinking is strategic, systemic, and connected and is not just about programs.

The Coalition for Community Schools has developed a results framework that addresses a series of results such as student succeeding academically, parents being involved in their children’s education, and children living in safe and supportive families. Take a look at:

Question from Carol Savage, Chapter Leader, Stand for Children Massachusetts:

As class sizes grow and resources are stretched, should we be creating more opportunities for trained volunteers - parents, citizens, maybe organizations to help in classrooms? Perhaps communities could partner in the effort, to help bridge divides.

Martin J. Blank:

Right on target, Carol. Every person has a role to play in educating our young people. Community schools typically have lots of volunteers–seniors, boomers, workers, college and high school students. Parents often volunteer to teach classes to one another on topics they know…how wonderful for students to see their parents teaching cooking, crafts and other topics.

Question from Barbara Britt-Hysell, ESOL Program Coordinator, Adjunct Faculty, Hamilton College:

Do you have a program or ideas for a program that would use college students who are trained to teach/tutor ESL to do internships in public schools? The students I train are not education majors, they are students who are interested in community service and experience in teaching before they do post=graduate work abroad.

Martin J. Blank:

Sounds like a terrific idea to me. Head over to your local school district, Barbara, and see if they need your help. Teachers working with ESL students are very likely to welcome the kinds of sustained assistance that your students can provide over the course of a semester. And they can mentors for the students as well.

Question from Daniel Elias, ECHO project director, Peabody Essex Museum:

How can museums and cultural organizations interact more effectively with school systems to enhance learning? How can such institutions use the World Wide Web to provide content? How can we get the importance of cultural awareness into the re-authorization of the Education bill?


Martin J. Blank:

Community schools believe that students must be engaged in real world learning and community problem solving. The key is to link what the museum can do to learning standards; then educators will pay more attention. Going to a museum or other cultural experience should not just be a ‘field trip,’ it should be an integral part of the curriculum, and it can be an exciting learning experience as well. So, get your hands on state and local standards and figure out where your expertise fits within the interests of the school. And take the museum to the school; not just the students to the museum.

As for cultural awareness in education legislation, we need to continue to advocate for service learning, civic education and global education so young people have opportunities to understand our world better and to understand the importance of their role within our world. The economic crisis surely shows that all of our students have to understand the diverse cultures of the larger, global world. And do not forget to send a note to your Congressman about your interests. We all must be advocates. Question from Jessica Dugan, Director of Community Partnerships, Boston Renaissance Charter Public School:

How are schools and partner organizations quantifying the value of partnership and measuring the effectiveness of partnerships?

Martin J. Blank:

We measure based on indicators. Schools and partners decide on what is important to them and the those things that are related to student learning and development. Is attendance up? Are more parents involved? Are there fewer problems in the classroom? Are more students involved in their communities? Is obesity down? Again take a look at our website and the results framework the Coalition has created. Our framework is based on results-based accountability model developed by the Fiscal Studies Policy Institute.

Question from Michael Morris, English Teacher, North Side High School, Fort Wayne Community Schools:

After over 35 years of educational experience, I retired and became a case manager for a mental health organization. I worked with children and adolescents. What we did as case managers really helped these troubled children be successful in school and life.

I returned to the classroom and see none of this happening any more. Is there any hope that we can get these types of programs funded especially in urban schools so that we can save more kids? Martin J. Blank:

Michael, a teacher and a social worker. I applaud you and the many others like you working to help kids every day. We have to do two things to address the problem you raise. First, we have to find the agencies in the community who can help do what you describe. I know that urban communities remain under-resourced; but I do believe there are partners out there who want to work with you. And second, as I mentioned above, we all must be advocates for the kind of funding that provides case management for students who need that kind of help. Tell your story…to legislators and local government officials, to your family members and friends, to people in the organizations with which you are involved. We all have to exercise our power to help kids succeed.

Question from Suzanne Close, Evergreen Elementary, Bilingual Teacher:

What are our options when struggling students can’t get the support at home because parents are illiterate and fear school support due to raids and deportation threats?

Martin J. Blank:

This is really a tough one, Suzanne. We have heard about these raids and their impact on students…whose parents sometimes must leave them behind. I also know from experience that the parents you describe want their children to succeed regardless of their circumstances. So let’s reach out –working through local groups that know them and support them and see how schools can work with these groups to support the children and their parents.

Question from George Zamora, Statewide Program Associate, The California Endowment:

How can public schools, hospitals, community-based organizations and other stakeholders convince education foundations to invest in the development, expansion and sustainability of educational pipeline programs that set underrepresented students on track toward careers in the health professions?

Martin J. Blank:

First, the stakeholders you mention need to formulate a common vision and strategy. Second, they need to look at what they are now doing with their existing resources to move under-represented students into health professions. For example, are higher education institutions creating internships for students that enable them to work in medical and dental clinics, laboratories and other health occupations? The University of Pennsylvania offers such opportunities through university-assisted community schools. Take a look at what Workforce Investment Boards are doing under the Department of Labor grants as well. Third, encourage schools to use health issues as a core element in the curriculum. We have community schools that use obesity, lead-based paint prevention and other community heath issues as core elements in their curriculum during and after school. Finally, document your successes in this arena and demonstrate the impact of your programs on employment and, where possible, health indices.

Question from Chris Toy, Former middle school principal. currently independent educational consultant.:

One concern educators have about NCLB is that the assessment of success is focused on a very small piece of the whole child, leaving behind large parts of all children as defined by NCLB. How can your work help schools who are struggling under NCLB to meet the needs of each whole child?

Martin J. Blank:

Four core beliefs underlie The Community Agenda for America’s Public Schools. One of them is the development of the whole child is a critical factor for student success. Others are 1) Communities and schools are fundamentally and positively interconnected; 2) Schools can make a difference in the lives of all children; and 3) Children do better when their families do better. So we are with you Chris. The Community Agenda asks schools to be good partners with other organizations in the community that can help address the needs of the whole child. You and I both know that schools cannot do this work by themselves…they have neither the resources nor in many cases the expertise. We have to get beyond the isolation of our schools from other institutions. That means community partners understanding schools and schooling better; and educators recognizing that they do not to control everything that happens in a school building and that other organizations are equally committed to good outcomes for kids.

Question from Mehmet “Dali” Ozturk, Ph.D., Executive Director, Research & Evaluation, Office of the Vice President for Education Partnerships, Arizona State University:

In recent years, a substantial evidence-based educational practice has emerged among educational researchers and policy-makers. However, much less attention has been given to the identification of ‘what works’ and ‘best practices’ in producing the evidence needed. There exists a critical need to develop effective ways to help education leaders, practitioners, policy-makers, philanthropists, researchers and evaluation experts make sense of the available evidence.

What is the evidence base for the success of partnerships? Thank you. Dali Ozturk

Martin J. Blank:

Community schools, as my colleague Jane Quinn at the Children’s Aid Society says, combine the best of “research and common sense.” On the common sense side, community schools try to bring together the kinds of services and opportunities – health, enrichment, counseling, cultural opportunities and others -- for children and youth that all parents want for their children regardless of income. On the research side we promote the use to evidence-based practices by focusing leaders and practitioners on evidenced-based practices. Our research shows that community schools contribute to improved academic performance, more family involvement, more effectively functioning schools and great community engagement. Look at our report Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools. Also look at evidence recently posted on this blog: Also we will be issuing another synthesis of existing research on community schools later this fall.

Question from Jill, mom and teacher:

This just sounds like a nicer way to say “We just discovered an untapped area of funding because the ever growing dollars we get from taxpayers isn’t enough for our growing bureaucracy...not enough if filtering down to the kids anymore”.

My other thought is that schools have no business turning families into government-welfare-piglets. Why not have schools telling parents that they had better not buy that second large flat screen if they can’t allocate enough to feed and cloth their kids. Kids already get free and reduced lunches on the taxpayer’s dime, I can’t believe that now business is partnering with government schools to encourage even more lazy behavior and welfare takers.

And what about the large number of poor kids whose parents (or even themselves) are illegals? We should be telling them there’s no free meal ticket if you break our laws to get here. Not shepherding them into the welfare lifestyle and mentality.

How can you justify your move to spread the socializing of education in this current financial climate? We need to reduce the number of those sucking off the government - from investment and banking CEOs etc taking their billions in buyouts down to your average parents and teenagers.

The businesses who participate should be ashamed of themselves for buying into your socialism and spreading that poison throughout our country. Martin J. Blank:

Jill, divisive language does not solve problems. The community schools concept works to enrich and educate children and youth to become mindful of their personal contributions to communities both academically and civically. Through this connection, it is arguable that they are more likely to contribute positively rather than, as you say, engage in welfare. We’re taking a long view, not a short one, towards ways to create stronger communities, stronger states, and a stronger nation by starting with our most precious resource—children and youth. We are much more dependent on each other than your questions suggest and unless we all work together to help kids succeed; we will all pay the price. I hope you stay with us and learn more about community schools.

Question from Karen Schafer, Director, Towson University:

We have established partnerships between low achieving ES, MS, and HSs in low SES communities that include training our teacher candidates in the schools. Along with this teacher preparation,we plan professional development for the teachers in the schools. We have seen a difference in student achievement, and a dramatic improvement in teacher retention in these partnerships. However,as principals request this program in their schools, the cost is more than our university can afford. Do you know of any resources that could help us continue and expand this program?

Martin J. Blank:

I suggest you take a look at the new Higher Education Act to see what opportunities might be available there Karen. In order to deepen and sustain programs that are working, schools and universities will have to take a careful look at everything that they are doing and redirect resources toward the kind of effective strategy you describe.

Question from Karen Rutynowski, Inst Tech Spec, Amphi Middle School:

What would be an effective practice to lessen the attraction that gangs have on our middle school and younger children?

Martin J. Blank:

I am not an expert on gang prevention, Karen, but let me share these thoughts. 1. Find the gang prevention groups in your community. Sit down and have serious conversation about the challenges you have and how you can work together to address them. You need to find allies to get the results you want. 2. Help teachers develop strong personal relationships with their students and implement curriculum that engages them. Young people are starving for these kinds of connections. 3. Find ways to provide more extended learning opportunities for young people where they can develop the kinds of group cohesiveness that makes gangs so attractive to some youth. These kinds of opportunities need to start early so young people are bonded to groups that provide alternatives to gangs. 4. My colleagues tell me that youth join gangs to belong, to be part of a family—perhaps replacing one that isn’t working for them. Maybe we need to examine this motivation and use it as a clue to reaching youth and for recreating a sense of family through a community school setting.

Question from Aretha Dodson, Retired Elementary Principal 2007. Presently involved with AmeriCorpsVISTA,and After -School Program in North Little Rock,Arkansas:

How can I become involved with a National-based coalition that focuses on providing after-school curricula that reinforces the National Standards in schools? This focus is needed.

Martin J. Blank:

Take a look at the websites of the After School Alliance, Foundations, Inc, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and YMCA of the USA. These and many other organizations are connecting their work to standards. But remember, after school is a time for enrichment, and engaging young people in learning in different ways than often happens during the regular school day. Our real challenge is make the entire curriculum more engaging,

Question from Chuck Szuberla, Director, NYS Education Dept.:

How would you restructure state and federal grants to require more collaboration and partnerships when resources are becoming more limited. Thank you.

Martin J. Blank:

This question is at the heart of the policy work we are now doing Chuck. Here are a few thoughts that are reflected in pending federal legislation like the Full Service Community Schools Act (Hoyer) and the PACE Act (Kennedy). 1. Require consortia arrangements for all grant programs. In the Full Service Community Schools Act we define an eligible entity this way: Consortium of LEA and one or more community-based organization, higher education institutions, and or public/private organizations. This kind of provision requires that schools and community partners have substantive conversations about what they want to do together before they submit a proposal 2. Give priority to communities that have in place partnership enmities that bring together schools, local government, CBOs, higher education institutions and other key organizations representing parents and residents that is focused on a community-wide strategy to improve outcomes for kids. Do not describe what such a group must look like, but give preference to people who have it. Use incentives. 3. Ask for a community-wide and school specific results/indicators framework into which all grants –regardless of funding sources should fit. Results/indicators should drive partnerships focused on these results. This improves accountability and encourages joint planning. Such a results framework could be useful regardless of the specific type of grant.

Question from Belinda Walters, National Director, CDI America:

What measures can be put in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the partnership?

Martin J. Blank:

Measures should focus both on results for students, families and the community and on partnership capacity. The Coalition for Community Schools results framework (see home page In terms of partnership capacity effectiveness we are concerned about leadership, results and data, relationships with partners, planning and decision-making, parent and community participation and sustainability, Indicators related to each topic can found at Use our form and let us know how it works for you.

Question from Reed Markham, Associate Professor, Daytona State College:

What efforts have you made to develop partnerships with colleges who offer concurrent enrollment to high school students?

Martin J. Blank:

These kinds of arrangements certainly fall within our broad vision of community schools, Reed. We want young people to be actively involved in learning and in their communities. If concurrent enrollment in colleges gets us there, we should do more of it. We tend to underestimate what young people can learn and do because we measure their performance in such a narrow way. Take a look at the article about teaching neuroscience in inner city high schools in this week’s Education Week. Imagine what other challenging topics our students could address. Research tells us that engagement is a precursor to learning. Our work focused on policy research and advocacy as you can see, so we leave to its local leaders to develop the kind of partnerships you describe. But we sure do need more higher education institutions seeing the improvement of K-12 schools are a core part of their mission –and throughout the institution – not just in the schools of education.

Question from Robert Rocha, Science Programs Manager, New Bedford Whaling Museum:

Does culture and/or place-based education fit into the national debate on improving our educational system? If not, why not? As part of our current partnership within ECHO we see how adding culture and place-based studies and emphasis encourages better performance in underserved urban communities and even helps build community strength.

Martin J. Blank:

From our perspective it does. Culture and/place-based education addresses the engagement issue I just referenced. So too do quality service learning, civic learning, school to career, academically based community service and other real world approaches to learning that are more likely to involve young people in community problem solving. We advocated for this approaches in our paper Community-Based Learning: Engaging Students for Success and Citizenship.

We argued in that paper, and still are working to get advocates for these different approaches on the same page. Each of these approaches is to often seen as separate and discrete and just one more program for schools to implement. So look for your allies in these different arenas and find ways to work together to change the curriculum and improve student learning.

Question from Carla Partridge, student teacher, Veritas College Johannesburg South Africa:

I am a student of education at the moment in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have had opportunities during my studies to explore ther needs of the community, the ever-varing role of the educator in society, and how parents, community organisations, NGOs, and so on, can be enlist to provide support to schools and their educators. I have also explored how the community, NGOs and commmunity based organisations can be of assistance to parents and learners specifically when parents and learners are either infected/affected by HIV/AIDS which is a huge and ever-growing problem in Africa. Do you have suggestions on the kinds of support those affected/infected might need? Do you have suggestions on how NGOs and community organisations may be able assist families of this type? Thank you!

Martin J. Blank:

Carla, I am thrilled to have a question from South Africa since my daughter, while living there made a documentary about students struggling to pass exams. Yours is an extraordinary and important country to all of us. HIV/AIDS is an issue that cannot be ignored by anyone whether in Africa or here in the United States. Surely schools, NGOs, parents and other should be talking about how best to teach students about HIV/AIDS in schools in the community. We also should seek ways to involve students in address this huge problem – as peer counselors, as community educators and in other ways. One organization in South Africa that connects school and community that might be helpful is the Extra Mural Education Project in Capetown.

Question from Susan Wally, President & CEO, PREP-KC (Partnership for Regional Educational Preparation, bi-state urban Kansas City:

Where are the best examples of partnerships which align the college/career preparation for first-generation college-goers during IN-school time with OUT-of-school learning opportunities, such as Boys/Girls Clubs, etc.

Martin J. Blank:

Thanks for the question, Susan, nice to hear from you. I wish that I followed this work more closely and could respond substantively. Groups that might be helpful in this regard include Jobs for the Future, the Alliance for Excellent Education, as well groups like Foundations, Inc. and YMCAs.

Question from L.Sterling-teacher-Middle School:

Is the Community Agenda for America’s Public Schools a community-based organization?

Martin J. Blank:

No. The Community Agenda is a position statement on what needs to happen to educate all of our young people and to strengthen their families and communities. It is endorsed by nearly 150 organizations. The Coalition for Community Schools organized this effort. The Coalition is an alliance of organizations in education, youth development, health and human services, community development, local government, philanthropy and others arenas that advocate for community schools.. The Coalition is staffed by the Institute for Educational Leadership.

Question from Dr. Samul Huang:

Based on what ground, do you think you can improve students’ academic performance through community connections and partenership without motivating students first?

Martin J. Blank:

Motivation and engagement are indeed key issues. Some students bring motivation to the classroom, some students lose that motivation because they find the curriculum boring as several recent reports have suggested. (See the Silent Epidemic). And others need to have their motivation nurtured. From our perspective motivation can be nurtured by creating learning opportunities that address topics of interest and concern to students that have meaning in their daily lives. Connections with community groups, higher education institutions and others can help to create these kinds of learning experiences. The gap between life and learning is a major reason for the lack of motivation and must be closed.

Question from Desma Strong, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Australia:

What evidence currently exists that such partnerships make a difference to educational outcomes for the children ?

Martin J. Blank:

See my response to a previous question asked by Mehmet “Dali” Ozturk, Ph.D. If readers have relevant research we encourage them to forward it to us:

Question from Jackie Green-August, Doctoral Student at Virginia State University:

In today’s educational arena, administrators are looking for strategies or best practices that will ensure no child is left behind when it comes to high stakes testing and graduation. With this in mind, what steps is the Coalition taking to provide evidence to policymakers, educators and general public that community schools are effective in their delivery of services?

Martin J. Blank:

Please see my response to Mehmet “Dali” Ozturk, Ph.D., . If readers have relevant research we encourage them to forward it to us:

Question from Ed Bodine, Education Analyst, GAO:

How do you envision the federal government playing a supportive role in the Community Agenda? Specifically, what kind of government incentives (if any) are likely to be effective?

Martin J. Blank:

Ed, take a look at my earlier responses to Chuck Szuberla, Director, NYS Education Dept and Doctolero, Parent, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, CA.

Question from Susan Alyn, Florida certified teacher, Elementary, Art and ESOL (Creator of Inspiration Lane web site):

When I taught in a poor minority school in Orange County, Orlando, Florida, one of the most shocking revelations was that in this particular school, very few students had ever seen the following, all of which were less than a 30 minute drive from the school: SeaWorld, Disney World, etc. It was like a wworld away for these students, yet, it was right around the corner. What, if anything, can you do to encourage large corporations to extend their educational opportunities not only to students who come to their grounds to learn, but also to those students RIGHT IN THE NIEGHBORHOOD who have NO such opportunity to ever get there?

Martin J. Blank:

When I was a VISTA Volunteer in 1965 children growing up less than a mile from the Mississippi had not seen the “Big Muddy,” and here in Washington, DC many children have never been to the national malls this is an contain g problem. Our poorest children remain isolated from the world around them. Teachers can be leaders and advocates for providing students access to the places in your community…and to ocean itself as a place for learning. You and your colleagues need to part of the solution. We have make time and resources available to support these kinds of learning experiences and make them part of the core curriculum. Work through your office of partnerships and find a way to talk to corporation about this issue.

Question from Rosemary Burns, High School Specialist, RI Department of Education:

How might you approach student opportunities to gaining high school credit based on learning opportunities found in the community? What are the policy implications for states and districts regarding quality, rigor and in-school assessment of student performance?

Martin J. Blank:

There are learning opportunities in the community related to every subject in the curriculum Rosemary. Social studies could focus on how Mayor Cicciline and the City Council function and how citizen’s influence government decisions; science can address issues of pollution or brown fields in the community; English classes can help students write about these topics. So the challenge is not to get separate for learning in the community it is to integrate learning in the community through the curriculum. Take a look at David Sobel’s book in Place-Based Education.

Question from Maggie Volkering, Family Advocate, Brighton Center:

At what point does empowering and educating parents to take an active role in their childs’ education get looked upon with an “us against them” way of thinking by the school?

Martin J. Blank:

Research tells us that the children or parents who take an active role in their children’s education at home and/or at schools do better academically. Schools and community partners must act on that fact. Schools that create a welcoming and supportive environment for parents, offer an enriching curriculum with high expectations, and provide additional opportunities for parents and children are unlikely to experience the problem you reference. It is when schools seek to manage or deal with parents rather than engage them that problems emerge. I am not suggesting that some parents will not be difficult; nor that parents might not challenge what schools are doing. What we would rather have, parents who accept failure or challenge the schools and themselves to do better?

Question from Tonya N. Jefferson, CEO, Jefferson Liberty Organizations, LLC:

Shouldn’t improving student achievement include a parental involvement component? I have noticed that some of the parents and other caregivers, especially those with students that are not performing well academically, have limited education. Shouldn’t the school-family-community partnership offer GED and ESL classes in addition to job training skills for parents? Also, these partnerships should include a fine arts and athletic component to help improve the lives of students in low-performing public schools nationwide.

Martin J. Blank:

Absolutely right, Tonya. In the Full Service Community Schools Act and in our new legislative proposals we will include a list of “qualified services” that provide flexibility for the kind of opportunities that you suggest. The key is for schools and community partners to sit with parents and community residents and figure out what is needed, to find assets locally, and seek additional support when needed. Then they have to oversee the entire effort, measure progress and make ongoing adjustments.

Question from Cynthia Sarver, Assistant Professor, SUNY Cortland:

My students are mainly preservice English teachers, and I already require my students to plan units that culminate with an “activist” performance task that extends students’ reading, writing, listening, speaking, and/or viewing skills outside the classroom.

My question is about assessment. What types of assessment and evaluation have you seen work best for these types of project?

Thanks you. Martin J. Blank:

I would suggest that these students test their approaches, perhaps more easily in local after school programs. And then make presentations to their peers on their plan and their experience. We need lots more work on alternative assessments that measure what students at all levels can do.

Question from Michelle unemployed Jamaican teacher:

Has the “No child Left Behind concept"helped to promote and enforce the importance of all state actors (community group, health care providers and other groups) in promoting quality education to the 21st Century children?.Isn’t education a national effort from cultural, civi,environment and new developments in science and technology?

Martin J. Blank:

In some communities, local leaders understand that education must be a community-wide effort involving many stakeholders including those you mention. But NCLB has not reinforced this concept rather in our view it has led to some school leaders turning inward. America can and must educate all students to high academic standards with engaging curriculum and provide students and their families the support they need to succeed. Who said we cannot walk and chew gum at the same time? We need schools to have robust relationships with families and other community institutions.

Question from Jan Hagey, Sr. Policy Specialist, NEA:

“What steps can be taken by higher education institutions to assure that prospective teachers and administrators [education employees] have the information and practical skills needed to form parent-family-school-community partnerships?”

Martin J. Blank:

A few suggestions: 1) Expand course offerings to more teachers to learn about these issues. Too many teachers, still, barely learn how to conduct a parent-teachers conference. If research links parent engagement to student achievement why do or universities not do more in this regard? 2) Use parents as adjunct instructors and pay them; lots of parents have lots to teach teachers about what works in parent involvement. 3) Use community schools as professional development schools. The Edison Elementary Schools in Portchester NY is one such example. Read the article Full Service Schools Fulfills its Promise in Education Leadership Magazine, April 2008.

Question from Roberta E. Hantgan, Manager Public Engagement Project, NEA:

“How can we work together to ensure that educators receive professional development on both the importance of and the how-to of forming family-school-community collaborations?”

Martin J. Blank:

Roberta, first this topic must continue to get high priority within the professional development work that NEA does with its members. Second, teacher organizations have tomust advocate that school districts and higher education institutions include attention to these issues in their teacher preparation and in service professional development programs. Third we have to work with other national organizations to inform and influence what groups like NCATE and AACTE do on this issue.

Question from Reed Markham, Associate Professor, Daytona State College:

How do you motivate parents to participate in your program?

Martin J. Blank:

First ask parents what they want and provide it. A Chicago school offered aerobics though the principal was originally skeptical, but it brought people in the door and then other things could happen. Then, do outreach all the time. Mobilize parents to reach out to neighbors; work through other organizations where parents show up. Encourage students to get their parents to come; offer something for both; family nights with food are a good thing. Organize home visits through intermediary groups of individual with strong relationships with parents; and finally make sure all school and partner staff knows that respecting and supporting and engaging parents is part of their job.

Question from Jane Quinn, Assistant Executive Director for Community Schools, The Children’s Aid Society, New York City:

How can state-level policy support the expansion of community schools? Are there examples of supportive state-level policies that other states can emulate?

Martin J. Blank:

Let add to what I said in response to Chuck Szuberla, Director, NYS Education Dept earlier. We need leadership from appointed and elected officials. State children’s cabinets can be an important source of leadership for community schools. These folks have the power to craft policies that can drive greater coordination of supports and opportunities toward school and community partnerships and community schools. Elected officials also should be asking, particularly in challenging economic times, how programs and services are being coordinated, and are leveraging other community assets at the local level. Much of the traction for community schools has been at the local level recently. Oregon passed a law with a small appripraite lst year that is being adminstreed through the Oregon Commision on Children YOuth and Families. Illinois has now organized an advocacy effort, the Federation for Community Schools of Illinois.

Question from Marissa Berg, Resource Associates:

If a community based organization desires to work with a local school or district, How should they prepare to approach an administrator?

Martin J. Blank:

First they should get to know the schools, its children and its story. You have to understand the culture of schools and schooling. Then invite the principal to come and see what you are doing in your organization so they understand why a partnership with you might be valuable. Also connect with other CBOs that are doing work with the schools; individual partnerships with schools are very important but we have systemic approaches and a CBO partnership strategy is one way to get there. We have some additional advice in the paper Education and Community Building: Connecting Two Worlds.

Question from Christina Scott, Supervisor, Dade Partners, Miami-Dade County Public Schools:

How do we effectively monitor learning disabilites that go undetected by the parent such as speech delays, hearing and visions problems. So many of our young boys have difficulty in reading because they have an undiagnosed speech delay that detected too late cripples their learning success throughout their academics.

Martin J. Blank:

Every child deserves these kinds of screenings on a regular basis. Schools, early childhood and health and mental health agencies must work together to make sure this happens. And local officials must make sure that the data on whether children have these screening and the results is made public so that the public can demand action and agencies can do what is necessary to screen and to treat. Resources are available to do this for most children we just have to make it happen

Question from Bill Futrell, Program Director, K12:

I am interested in Chicago specifically. Is there a publication or link that list all available services to low performing schools in the Chicago area.

Martin J. Blank:

I am not familiar with such a publication; keeping track is an enormous challenge. Chicago community schools offer an array of different services based on local needs; they are all different. Look at this CPS website for more information and check out the awards publication from the Federation for Community Schools in Illinois mentioned in my earlier response to Carlos Azcoitia to learn more about what happens at different schools

Question from Bruce A. Boyd Jr. Executive Director of Building Our Youth’s Development Trenton NJ:

How can schools pay for community organizations when the Districts are getting cuts to really make it impossible to close the gap

Martin J. Blank:

We do not expect schools to pay for these services. Schools have to do their part with student support staff but The funding for many different services is in the budgets of other organizations who also are concerned about the learning and development of children. That tis why we need community leadesrhip coalitions focused on helping young people succeed

Question from Charles Hyser, Co-chair, Education Department, Augustna College:

We are in the early planning stages of a partnership between Augustana College (small, private, liberal arts in Rock Island, IL) and a local elementary school. Can you point us toward other successful partnerships? The College has a voice in curriculum and pedagogical decisions. This is meant to be a joint leadership model, not simply a “professional development school” model.

Martin J. Blank:

Augustana people, school staff, leaders from other community agencies working at the school or intereste in helping have to come together along with parents to create the kind of leadership group that drives successful partnerships that withstand the test of time. Take a look too at the PDS model at the Edison School that I mentioned in response to another question

Question from Jack Blodgett, Director of Public School Planning and Development, Clemson University:

In view of the economy and education priorities in transition on the national front, do you have any idea about the possibility of new Dept of Ed awards for Community Schools this spring - - or about potential funding initiatives from private foundations?

Martin J. Blank:

We are working on ths Jack, but it is tough to tell what will happen for thew reasons you mention. We need your advocacy with house and senate members to make it happen. Also we need you to keep pressing to mobilize local resources so you are ready and can use federal monies most effectively.

Question from Christina Scott, Supervisor, Dade Partners, Miami-Dade County Public Schools:

How can community schools reconnect families with one another in this digital age?

Martin J. Blank:

I believe that People still like to get together Christina. So we encourage family nights with food and other oportuinties that parents. residents and students really want. Yes the digital age is challenging but what our young people are missing today is the personal connections and relationships -- the social capital that they need to succeed.

Question from Ruth McDonald, Community Curriculum Resource Liaison, Lincoln County Schools, Oregon:

What are some strategies for getting community partners to commit time and money to help schools in small communities where the private sector gets “tapped” by everyone?

Martin J. Blank:

Ruth, its a community conversation about hekoping students succeed that is needed. When everyone is at the table then we can begin to find solutions...and find previulsy untapped resources and expertise. I wish there was a simple answer for you...but commecting schools to community is a community development challenge

Question from Cecilia Echeverria, Program Officer, The California Endowment:

There are several funding streams available to wrap services and service providers around schools. What are some of the unfunded positions/programs that might support community schools as well?

Martin J. Blank:

The key is funding the Commmunity Schools Coordinator which I discussed earlier. This person can mobilize other avaiable community resources whie other leaders seek additional funding sources. United Ways, local foundations, corporations and businesses, indivudual agencies and school districts themselves are funding these positions.

Question from Vanessa Lujan, Program Coordinator, Vallejo City Unified School District:

Do you have any recommendations for building more community partnerships for smaller cities where districts have almost exhausted their local businesses, city gov., non-profit organizations, etc.?

Martin J. Blank:

I think that often schools have many partnerships but there is no overaching vision and strategy for what these partners are trying to accomplish. Trying harder is not good enough. Everyone must come together and see if what you are doing is working, and how things must change. Community schools are not a set of ad hoc parnerships. They are driven by a set of strategic relationships designed to create a whole place that addresses the academic, social, emotional phsyical and civic needs of children and youth. If we want whole children then we need whole places for them

Question from Lisa Villarreal, Program Officer, The San Francisco Foundation:

Please clarify - Community Schools are not a new idea, they are historical, dating back to the turn of the last century, right?

Martin J. Blank:

Absolutely. It goes back to JOhn Dewey and Jane Addams and the communty schools vision of the Mott Foundation, But it often takes us a while to get things right. The most recent movement toward community schools started in the early 90s and it has been growing ever since. What is different? A focus on results including academic and non academic factors. An emphasis on partnership and a recogntion that schools cannot educate students alone. And community leaders really stepping forward. Indeed Lisa its does take a village

Question from Eileen Myers, School MH Coordinator, NYS Office of Mental Health:

Could you comment on the different roles that school-employed mental health professionals and community mental health professionals play in the delivery of school-based mental health services?

Martin J. Blank:

We need both Eileen to meet the mental health challenges in schools. SChool staff tend to focus more on IEPs, while community based people have a broader role sometimes working the whoe school and supoprting teachers, sometimes doing individual and group counseling. Communities will have to decide how to allocate scarce resources to in school or partner organizations depending on local circumstance, but at the school everyone has to be on the same team

Question from Chris Leibner, CAO PHILLIPS Public Charter School, Washington DC:

Are there any community school initiatives currently underway in Washington DC and more specifically under the stewardship of Chancellor Michelle Rhee in the DC Public Schools?

Martin J. Blank:

There are some schools that have characteristics of community schools and we have had conversations with various charter school and regular school folks. Wd we are reasching to the Chancellor’s staff to discuss the opportunities.

Question from Carol Savage, Chapter Leader, Stand for Children Massachusetts:

It is a wonderful idea to connect families to agencies that can help all children come to school prepared to learn. My only concern is that we not saddle schools with additional mandates to hold them “accountable” to measure success on standards that are broader than just academic measures. If I understand correctly, this is what you propose. Schools already have enough on their plate to deliver NCLB mandates without adequate funding. The administrative burdens of state testing and Special Education paperwork are crippling many districts. Would this add more burden to already stretched districts?

Martin J. Blank:

We obviously agree that this is a great idea. We want not just schools to be accountable for student success. We want an entire community. to be responsible. Schools clearly should not be saddled with this responsoibility alone. But if students hve high rates of eaerly chronic absenteeism then the public should know and see that the school is working effectively with partners to address the problem. And if students are disengaged, then we want the community ivolved inlooking at curriculum and helping organize engaging learning exzperiences. Of all we measure is academic achievement we will never get our goals

Question from Keith Hickman, Director of Strategic Initiatives, NYC Department of Education - District 79 Alternative Schools and Programs:

Do we need healthy communities to sustain healthy partnerships? How critical is urban policy in creating sustainable models particularly in communities of color?

Martin J. Blank:

Of course it all matters Keith. But we have learned that change is not a linear process. It is more like the spiraling process of change we set forth in together We Can in 1993. So yes we need urban policy to support healthy communities, and community schools are a primary vehicle for developing such communities.

Question from Gully Stanford, Partnerships Director, College In Colorado:

Do you have examples of partnerships which include WorkForce Development Centers and/or Pre-Collegiate Service Providers such as the TRiO’s or GEAR UP?

Martin J. Blank:

Contact me directly on this one Gully. I know some of this is happening but am not sure where. We are starting a study on how community schools are financed and may have some specific answers in the future

Question from Chris Toy, Educational Consultant, Former Principal, Freeport Middle School, Freeport Maine:

Please accept my apologies if you’ve already received this question...I THINK I sent it from my PDA, but I’m not sure!

Many educators I’ve spoken to are concerned that the increased focus on standardized testing in an effort to leave no child behind is resulting in leaving key parts of the whole child behind across the country. The definition of the child has been narrowed to what the test assesses. How can your work help teachers and schools ensure that no whole child is left behind?

Martin J. Blank:

We are working with our many partners to make our voice heard in the halls of Congress. There is growing recognition among law makers that a broader approach is needed. We have been asked by Senate staff to develop a comprehensive community and school partnership approach that focuses on the whole child and support for the Full Service Community School Act has been growing. But at the same time that federal policy has narrowed our focus to academics, community schools have been expanding. So a lot to support the whole child can be done by local leaders with the support of people like you.

Question from Jackie A. Green-August, Doctoral student at Virginia State University:

There are many entities such as Coalition for Community Schools, Federation for Community Schools, and Communities in Schools that assert, “the development of the whole child is a crucial factor in student success.” How are these organizations collaborating to address and bring awareness to the issue of educating not only the whole child but the family as well?

Martin J. Blank:

The Coalition for Community Schools brings together the two organizations you mention and others also support the development of the Whole Child. We now have a federal policy work group that includes people from education, youth development, student support, health, child and family services that is putting together a legislative proposal to promote our core beliefs.

Question from joy rosario,teacher,francis scott key elementary/middle:

how can we seek the help of the community to work hand in hand with the educators to make children learn at their own ways and styles

Martin J. Blank:

Teachers have to play a much more public role explaining to the public the many different ways in which students learn. I fin dthat most people get this because many have children who do not learn in ‘traditional’ ways. The public also loves to see its young people out in the community learning and doing good at the same time. Creating learning opportunities around real world community issues offers the potential to address the problem you raise.

Question from Scott Power, Director, NH Scholars Initiative:

The State Scholars Initiative encourages students to take more rigorous courses. Business leaders reinforce this message by providing mentorship and classroom presentations. This education/business partnership has shown to be very successful. When business volunteers speak...students listen. Do you know of a resource (handout, web site, materials) that speak on the importance of these partnerships or strategies to strengthen them in the community?

Martin J. Blank:

The National Association of Secondary School Principals has an excelletn pub on school=-business partneships. Let me add however that we not only need business people in schools; we need young peopple learning in businesses through internships, apprenticeships and other hands on experience; this is one way for businesses to get the workers they need and for schools to respond to their real needs

Question from Molly Brunkow, Student, Clinton School for Public Service:

We all know that learning is not just done through the school hours, or just in a school’s calendar year. What initiatives have community schools put forth to help students after school and in the summer, times when many need the most help?

Martin J. Blank:

After school and summer programming are all part of the community school strategy. Remember the quesion is what do kids need and what do their families need fo them to succeed. You know we had a lot of ineffectve summer school programs run by school districts; now we have a drive for summer learning that involves partnerships with community based organisations, higher eds and others. That same partnership strategy applies to after school and extended learning opportunities

Question from Dr. Warletta Brookins, Independent Education Consultant, Chicago, IL:

What can schools that are struggling economically, with low student academic performance, attendance and with overworked staff members do to cultivate and sustain community partnerships that will improve the overall school and community?

Martin J. Blank:

The brilliance of the Chicago Community Schools strategy Warletta is that Chicago city and school leadeship decided to make it happen and they allocated local funds as well as state federal resourdces to make it happen. We want that kind of systems- level approach. Indivudual principals who organzine community schols on their own are terrific; but without a system wide approach we fear their good work will fade away as principals move on. Pprincipals shoud expect their school board and school superintendents to develop these systemic approaches together with othr stakeholders

Lesli A. Maxwell (Moderator):

That’s a wrap, folks. Thanks so much for all of your good questions about community schools and a special thanks to Marty Blank for taking the time to thoughtfully answer all of them.

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