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Don’t just write the grant to write it

A woman and man sit at a desk with computers. In the backdrop is a whiteboard with a number of sticky notes of various colors stuck to the whiteboard, from orange, pink, and blue. Both people are smiling and in the middle of a discussion.

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It takes a lot to build a strong community school. Leadership, partnership, a willingness to listen to other people’s ideas and perspectives, the confidence to set aside old ways of doing your work and “do different,” a commitment to creating spaces where students find joy and thrive. And, the elephant in the room. It takes funding.

Psst. What does it mean to “do different…?” It means to purposefully change your mindset, change your orientation to the work, change how you collaborate with partners, change how you do your job.

Getting a California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP) grant is one way to access the resources necessary to get community school (CS) development off the ground. At CSLX, we like to say that community schools are not about a grant, but a strategy. CCSPP funding can absolutely set the stage for whole-school transformation, but only if you approach it with an actual plan for transformation. Not an idea about it, not a wishlist or a shopping list, and not a “wouldn’t that be so great” mindset. An actual strategy.

To undertake CS transformation, we need to change mindsets, evolve and build from how we have always done things. This requires more voices, opinions and ideas to guide the work. Why? Because transformation does not happen by implementing just one person’s ideas. It happens with the meaningful buy-in and investment of everyone involved. And it can’t happen without intentionality.

And, it bears repeating: it takes a strategy.

Too often county offices of education (COEs), local educational agencies (LEAs), and schools enter into CS development work without a clear strategy. We can understand some of the reasons why. For many, there’s simply no time to plan, and too many balls in the air. Others just aren’t so good yet at inviting and engaging the amazing people, perspectives, and passions that are part of their communities. The list goes on.

But starting your community school development process without a strategy in place is like starting a boat trip and sitting on a pile of wood, with no destination in mind. You might have the intent, but you still don’t have a plan. And you wouldn’t climb up on the wood pile, piece together some parts, and start pushing off the dock without some idea of where you might go first, right?

You’d figure out who can help build your boat, how you build your boat, who can contribute some supplies, how you might determine where you should go first, and the different routes for getting there.

Many of you know that the CCSPP Implementation Grant Request for Proposals (RFA) just dropped, and applications are due on February 9th, 2024. Going through the application development process offers applicants – county offices of education, school districts, and partners – an opportunity to not just put together a strong grant proposal but also to lay a solid foundation for community school development; to bring your community together to develop a strategy underpinning everything you’ll propose using the CCSPP funding to accomplish. The CCSPP RFA offers, in other words, a chance to collectively work with your community to build the boat and think about your journey, while still on the dock.

So if you’re a district lead, school or teacher leader, or community partner, how do you begin to develop a strategy?

You start by asking some questions, like:

  • WHAT are our hopes and dreams for our school transformation? What would we like to see changed in five years?

  • WHO needs to be informed of this opportunity (hint: it’s everybody – teachers, students, families, community partners, school staff, labor partners and school leaders)?

  • HOW will we gather the ideas and dreams of our STAKEHOLDERS, not just at the start, but throughout the five years and beyond?

  • WHEN will we engage people? We encourage you to do this throughout the grant development process and beyond (hint: think of this as the start of a beautiful journey, not a one-time excursion).

And, you remember that the latest RFA gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your existing work, plans, and commitment to:

  • Engage your community – families, teachers, labor, community partners, students – in community school development in meaningful and sustained ways;

  • Collect data and use it to build a needs assessment and asset map that reflects the experiences of students and adults connected to your schools. This means going beyond the usual data sets and instead connecting directly with students and families to hear their perspectives, peeling back the layers to get at root causes, broadly communicating about and gathering feedback on what you’re learning, and generally testing your understanding of what you think the data is telling you.

  • Explore the different ways you can sustain community school development. Remember, community school work is more than a grant and must extend beyond the life of a grant cycle. It’s about transformation – a change in values and mindsets, and bringing more people to table, among other things. It’s how you “do different.” How will you “do different” during and after the lifetime of the grant?

The bottom line?

Don’t just write the CCSPP grant to write it. Don’t write the grant to check the boxes. Instead, really think about what you want this work to be. Use the process to build ownership and collaboration with your community. Be really thoughtful with your teams so you can go into the grant process together with your eyes wide open. Spend time to collectively determine your “why,” and let that guide not just your application development process, but your CS development process, as well.

Don’t just write the CCSPP grant to write it. Don’t write the grant to check the boxes. Instead, really think about what you want this work to be. Use the process to build ownership and collaboration with your community.

And if you want support along the way, check out the CCSPP Grant Cohort Series. It’s our first 100% virtual offering that is designed to help districts submit a well-designed Implementation Grant proposal for the CCSPP’s 2024-28 cohort. We kicked off with our first session last week, but we have a few spots open and it’s not too late to sign up! Learn more and register here.

What is the California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP)?

If you’re new to California or community schools, the California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP) is a state grant program administered by the CA Department of Education. The CCSPP aims to support schools’ efforts to partner with community agencies and local governments to align community resources to improve student outcomes. These partnerships provide an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement. The CCSPP’s latest application for another round of implementation grants was recently released. Have questions? Send us a note.

by Ali Metzler

Ali is Director of Client & Coaching Services at CSLX. She comes to CSLX with over 25 years of experience leading community school efforts in organizations, cities and school districts across the Bay Area. Most recently, Ali served as the Community School Leadership Coordinator for Oakland Unified School District, where she led Collaborative Leadership Practices and Integrated Supports for 77 Community School Managers across the district, managed the implementation of California Community School Partnership Program (CCSPP) at 53 schools, and coordinated the expansion of Community Schools to meet OUSD's strategic plan to become a full-service community school district. She is an Advisory Board member to the Oakland Education Fund and a proud parent of three school age kids. Get in touch with Ali via email at