Tying it Together: Education-Focused Community Change Initiatives
Croninger, Robert G.
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Policymakers make many demands of our schools to produce academic success. At the same time, community organizations, government agencies, faith-based institutions, and other groups often are providing support to students and their families, especially those from high-poverty backgrounds, that are meant to impact education but are often insufficient, uncoordinated, or redundant. In many cases, these institutions lack access to schools and school leaders. What’s missing from the dominant education reform discourse is a coordinated education-focused approach that mobilizes community assets to effectively improve academic and developmental outcomes for students. This study explores how education-focused comprehensive community change initiatives (CCIs) that utilize a partnership approach are organized and sustained. In this study, I examine three research questions: 1. Why and how do school system-level community change initiative (CCI) partnerships form? 2. What are the organizational, financial, and political structures that support sustainable CCIs? What, in particular, are their connections to the school systems they seek to impact? 3. What are the leadership functions and structures found within CCIs? How are leadership functions distributed across schools and agencies within communities? To answer these questions, I used a cross-case study approach that employed a secondary data analysis of data that were collected as part of a larger research study sponsored by a national organization. The original study design included site visits and extended interviews with educators, community leaders and practitioners about community school initiatives, one type of CCI. This study demonstrates that characteristics of sustained education-focused CCIs include leaders that are critical to starting the CCIs and are willing to collaborate across institutions, a focus on community problems, building on previous efforts, strategies to improve service delivery, a focus on education and schools in particular, organizational arrangements that create shared leadership and ownership for the CCI, an intermediary to support the initial vision and collaborative leadership groups, diversified funding approaches, and political support. These findings add to the literature about the growing number of education-focused CCIs. The study’s primary recommendation—that institutions need to work across boundaries in order to sustain CCIs organizationally, financially, and politically—can help policymakers as they develop new collaborative approaches to achieving educational goals.