New Community School Grant Opportunity

By Ed Honowitz, Education Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Carol Liu

Governor Jerry Brown signed the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund: Learning Communities for School Success program into law Friday. This program will fund model practices that improve academic success, strengthen families, and build healthier communities.

The Learning Communities for School Success program is focused on implementing research-based strategies to improve school climate and address the school-to-prison pipeline. The bill directs savings from the prison sentencing reform initiative prop 47 and additional one-time funds to ensure that schools and community partners coordinate strategies to support our neediest students and families.

The grant program will fund successful strategies, such as community schools, which align support services including health and mental health providers to remove barriers to learning and address the underlying causes of chronic absence and trauma. These strategies include supporting social-emotional learning and alternative discipline approaches which strengthen the capacity of students to focus on academic success. SB 527 (Liu) and the accompanying bill AB 1014 (Thurmond) are funded at $28 million in the current budget.

These research-based approaches to serving the “whole child” are supported in the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which replaces the failures of No Child Left Behind. ESSA requires states to develop measures that address both the academic and non-academic needs of students. SB 527 reflects the framework developed by both houses of the Legislature in conjunction with the Department of Education, Department of Justice, Department of Finance, and stakeholders. By authorizing grant funds for evidence-based, non-punitive programs and practices to keep our most vulnerable students in school, the program enhances the actions and services in school districts’ local control and accountability plans.

This targeted funding will support additional model programs that can help districts learn and implement national best practices to keep students in school and on a productive path. Implementing activities and strategies to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism, and advance social-emotional learning, positive behavior interventions and supports, culturally responsive practices, and trauma-informed strategies, have shown results for our most vulnerable students.

The grant program will be administered by the Department of Education and moves our state further along the path of implementing community school strategies, including defining this approach in education code. Using schools as hubs, community school strategies foster intentional collaboration and alignment among schools; state, county, and city government; post-secondary education; community based organizations; non-profits; and business.

We continue to see the growing recognition that our schools and students succeed when we meet the broader needs of the whole child. There is a growing movement across the country that recognizes the effectiveness of combining rigorous relevant instruction with strategies that provide access to personalized support and services. This is the approach we need to keep our kids on the college and career track and out of the school-to-prison pipeline.

To Improve Climate & Student Engagement, Invest in Health

By Juan Taizan, California School-Based Health Alliance

The Student Perspective: Omar’s Story

For Omar, being a part of a gang simply meant he had other men from his neighborhood in whom he could confide, trust, and depend on to look out for him like a brother or son. These relationships often put Omar in situations where he had to stand up for his friends, which sometimes meant physically fighting other students.

After being suspended for one such fight, Omar was referred to his high school’s school-based health center (SBHC). The SBHC at his school makes sure students and their families have access to health care, but it also provides valuable health education – beyond what many teachers are able to do in the classroom – so students and parents can make better decisions that positively impact physical health, behavior, and academic success. As part of an agreement with the school administration, Omar’s suspension would be reduced if he agreed to participate in the SBHC’s Latino male engagement program and made an effort to improve his academics – Omar also had a D average and regularly missed a lot of school. Omar agreed. He met with a health educator from the SBHC several times over the next couple of weeks and created an academic improvement plan.

Because of the relationship he had built with the health educator, Omar agreed to join the SBHC’s after school program – Homies United in Solidarity to Teach, Learn, and Survive (HUSTLAS)–where he was able to connect with other young Latino men. He learned about Latino history and examples of men that fought for civil rights. After the sessions, Omar and the other young men often stayed to play football, soccer, or handball. Twice a week Omar showed up for the program. On more than one occasion Omar commented about he found it funny that for the first time in years, he was actually choosing to stay longer at school.

Omar was quickly seen as a leader in the program. He actively recruited other friends and family members to attend. He participated in other programs the SBHC offered, including a mural project, youth leadership retreats, and a talent show where he starred as the main character in a play about the school to prison pipeline. Omar was so proud of his commitment that one day he invited his mom to the SBHC to see the mural he and the other young men had created.

Over the course of his participation, Omar’s academics improved. He started attending school more regularly and admitted that most of the time this was so that he could attend the young men’s group. Teachers commented that his behavior in class had also improved. More impressive was Omar’s willingness to make and maintain new friendships with other students that were not from his neighborhood. Many of these new friends helped Omar with his school work and encouraged him to get involved in other youth leadership programs.

Omar didn’t graduate the top of his class and didn’t go on to a prestigious Ivy League college. Instead, he did something much more important and impressive: Omar survived. He graduated, learned a trade, and got a union job. He grew up, started a family, and bought a home. He achieved all of the goals he set out for himself.

Omar was the exception. Many of his friends did not have the same opportunities, and too many ended up dropping out, being locked-up, or not surviving. But Omar’s story can be replicated. His is an example of what can happen when school administrators invest in comprehensive health services and prioritize students who need support.

How Did the School Do It?

In 2006, the administration at Tennyson High School in Hayward was looking for better ways to support their Latino male students. Many of these young men were affiliating with local gangs and the number of on-campus gang related fights was increasing, leading to increased suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of Latino students. The school principal turned to the school-based health center (SBHC), sponsored by Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center, Inc., for support. Together, the principal and the SBHC initiated a Latino male engagement program.

The program elements included:

  • Enhanced referrals for support
  • Individual case management
  • Family support
  • After school programing
  • Alternative to suspension

For more on how to establish or expand your SBHC, check out Why School-Based Health Centers Matter or visit the California School-Based Health Alliance at

Why School-Based Health Centers Matter

Physical and emotional well-being are essential for a child to succeed in school. Yet, many children come to school suffering from conditions that seriously affect their attendance, achievement, connectedness to school, and dropout rates. Left untreated, these conditions can have a devastating and long-term impact. California’s school-based health centers are located in schools serving some of the state’s most vulnerable children. This chapter of “student Supports: Getting the Most out of Your LCFF Investment,” details how school districts can establish or expand their own school-based health centers to support progress on the LCFF priorities.

Engaging Families from the Classroom Out

By Teneh Weller, High Expectations Parental Service

I remember being a new 5th grade teacher, full of excitement and hope. I had the opportunity, in some small way, to change the world. I had a vision that all of my students, no matter where they started out, would reach proficiency in reading and math. I envisioned that they would all go to college and be happy and productive citizens. The majority of my students were at least two years below grade level in reading and many of them had serious behavior challenges. But this did not deter my enthusiasm. I was committed to supporting each child’s success.

I was so excited to share this vision with my families at Back-to-School Night. I had my speech ready! I was going to start off with my vision for the students and then let the parents know how my classroom rules, procedures, and curriculum would help THEIR children reach MY vision.

Needless to say, the night did not go well. And many of my subsequent interactions with families did not go well either. I couldn’t understand it! I only wanted the best for their children. Why didn’t they want to partner with me? One evening, I was crying to my husband for the umpteenth time, and he asked me a question. “Did you ever bother asking the families what their vision is for their children?”

Asking that single question, “What is your vision for your child’s future?” shifted the way I engaged with families. When they told me that they wanted their child to be happy and go to college, it gave me the opportunity to provide the tools and resources needed to help them reach THEIR vision for THEIR child.

The most powerful relationship in a child’s education is between the family (the child expert) and the teacher (the content expert). The family brings a wealth of knowledge about their child and the community they live in. The family holds the vision for the child’s future. The teacher is the educational leader and knows the most about how the child is performing academically.

So often, family engagement staff, after-school coordinators, or the attendance clerks have the strongest relationships with families. School districts often invest in family liaisons and offer professional development to build their capacity. The school community then relies on the family liaison to engage all of the parents. Similarly, attendance clerks are typically responsible for communicating with families whose students are truant. They work to support families in increasing their child’s attendance. There is no doubt that these relationships are important but they cannot replace the partnership between “the child expert” and the “content expert”.
Because teachers do not have a lead role in the family engagement cast, most interactions with families are not linked to learning, and therefore do not support increased academic success.

73% of teachers surveyed in 2012 found it very challenging or challenging to engage parents in improving the education of students. (MetLife, 2012.)

It is during the family-teacher interactions that teachers can provide the families with detailed, targeted tools and resources that can support the child’s success in class. It is during these times that families can share information on how the child feels about school or how certain life experiences are impacting their ability to focus in class. The family and the teacher can sit down to identify interventions, strategies, and needed resources that will improve outcomes for the child both at home and at school. When families and teachers have this deeper relationship, they can then turn together to the other key community partners at the school for any additional supports to ensure that students have what they need to thrive developmentally and succeed academically.

Here are some proven strategies that support family engagement from the classroom out:

Share the Vision: Provide a space and time for families to share with the teacher their vision for their child’s future. What are their hopes and dreams for their child? How can the school support those hopes and dreams?

Dual-Capacity Building: Both families and teachers need tools and strategies for building strong partnerships. Schools must provide ongoing professional development for teachers to equip them to engage families in ways that lead to increased academic outcomes. Training will offer teachers strategies for engaging families in ways that do not add to their plates, but rather, strengthen their existing interactions.

Schools often offer opportunities for families to be involved at the school. The challenge is to ensure that those opportunities are linked to learning, foster strong relationships, and build the families’ capacity to support learning at home.

Develop an Action Plan: An effective way for families and teachers to partner is through the use of a Family-School Action Plan during parent-teacher conferences. What is powerful about this process is that the parent and teacher walk away from the meeting understanding exactly what they need to do to support the success of the child. This plan is used to:
1. Identify a child’s strengths and challenges in the areas of academics, behavior, or attendance
2. Set a short-term goal
3. Identify the role of the parent, teacher, and child in reaching the goal
4. Set a time for the parent and teacher to review progress and determine next steps

By the end of my first year of teaching, and throughout my ten years in the classroom, I asked families to share their vision for their child’s future. I made sure that during every meeting or event, I provided families with easy-to-use tools that they could implement with their child and see immediate results. It was key to my success as a teacher and key to the success of my students.

The most effective forms of parent involvement are those which engage parents in working directly with their children on learning activities at home.
(Cotton, K., Wikelund, K., Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, School Improvement Research Series, Parent Involvement in Education.)

For more information on best practices around family engagement that puts teachers and families at the center of your efforts, as well as some tips for how to think about this in an LCFF/LCAP context, see the chapter I co-authored, Why Family Engagement Matters, on the California Community Schools Network website.

The Case for Community Schools

When I began my professional career in education I was only seventeen, counseling bilingual newcomer students from Central America at a Community College in Southern California. That experience catapulted me into a deep understanding of what happens when the necessary conditions for learning are undone by war, trauma, hunger, homelessness, drugs, alcohol, poverty, crime, unemployment, and all manner of structural inequities a society might experience.

Over the decades as a teacher, counselor, administrator, and philanthropist, I’ve seen every major education reform initiative this state and country have devised since the first elementary and secondary education act, and I will be the first to tell any audience that most of the reforms — which ignored things we now consider the necessary conditions for learning like a responsive and motivating instructional core, robust family and community engagement, and a basic level of physical, mental, and emotional health — struggled, lost funding, and were overturned by the next generation of reformers.

In the 1960’s and 70’s we made great headway with the civil rights movement, bilingual education, affirmative action, instructional aides, school nurses, school social workers, eight weeks of extended summer learning, and lots of free afterschool enrichment across the country. By the 1980’s California had suffered the loss of many of these programs under Prop 13, and by the early 1990’s “A Nation at Risk” warned that the country would suffer the loss of over 25% of our gross domestic product if we did not address the emerging crisis in education.

With little or no general public funding left to address the necessary conditions for learning, the initiative process in California gave us Healthy Start, Family Preservation and Support, First Five, mental health in schools, and vast afterschool programming, too many of which were designed as short-term grants that required annual renewals and proof of sustainability rather than the ongoing funding we know the neediest schools must have consistently. These investments, while important, didn’t go far enough, and the warnings of “A Nation at Risk” became a reality.

Since the 1990’s we have been trying to re-create the necessary conditions for learning so that every child has an equitable opportunity to thrive. The national community schools movement has grown dramatically since then in the interest of this charge, and California has champions of this movement in many places and at many levels. Here and now, with local control funding and increasing recognition of the importance of educating the “whole child”, we have enormous opportunities to ensure every child comes to school ready and able to learn, with the whole range of supports and opportunities they need and deserve. It is in this spirit that we welcome you to the California Community Schools Network. Like a community school itself, this Network and new website are not just a set of services, but a new approach and a powerful new way to connect our community. We look forward to connecting with you, and thank you for being a part of the community!

Lisa R. Villarreal,
California Native
Board Member, Partnership for Children and Youth
Steering Committee Chair, Coalition for Community Schools

Welcome to the California Community Schools Network!

We’re excited to be rolling out a new online network to connect every level of community schools work in California. We wanted to create an informal space for community members, educators, practitioners, administrators, and policymakers to come together, share information, and think comprehensively about supporting our students.

California has years of experience doing community schools work. We’ve been working hard to address the achievement gap by better using public resources to ensure that not only basic needs are met, but that each student has the opportunity to grow and reach his or her full potential.

But much of this ‘know-how’ and its impact has flown under the radar. We created this website to facilitate discussion and information sharing, as well as to highlight the good work taking place across the state. We believe that you – the local practitioners, educators, and policymakers – hold key resources and expertise that will benefit others working on community school development and improvement. We want this site to function as a social networking tool, specifically geared toward those who know and understand the importance of this work – whether you’re already running an exemplary program or have come across road blocks and need some advice or questions answered.

Join the Network and be part of the conversation!
Get on the map to showcase your district or community-wide efforts
Ask a question or start a conversation in the forum
Add an event to the calendar
Add a resource to the library and highlight it in the forum
Find a resource in the library and rate it
Submit a blog post

We hope that we can work together to share best practices and provide each other with the right tools to enhance this work in each of our communities. So go ahead, test out the site. We’d love to hear what you think!

Deanna Niebuhr
Senior Director, Community Schools Initiative
Partnership for Children and Youth