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Three ways to accelerate CS development as you kick off the school year

A group of children sitting at desks in a classroom, looking at the camera.

Photo by Mario Heller on Unsplash.

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We can hardly believe it, but the start of the new school year is…, oh, now! Here are three ways you can accelerate your community school development as you kick off another year.

1. Document, document, document!

Kicking off the new school year with good documentation habits in place sets up the routine for the rest of the year. In these first few weeks, take time to document and organize your community school development work – and the resources that you will turn to the most.

Different teams organize this information in different ways, but one strategy is to prepare a binder or a shared drive for your team and advisory council members (or better yet, a Trapper Keeper. Anyone?!?). What to stick in it? Fill your binder with some of the following.

  • Recommended readings or resources/explainers about community schools (like this!);

  • Contact lists of your team and key partners and/or decision-makers. Try adding bios and pictures to make it more personal.

  • District or school level reports or documents that guide your work (e.g., LCAP, SPSA, WASC accreditation);

  • Meeting agendas and notes (from advisory council meetings, planning meetings, or meetings with key stakeholders, for example);

  • Calendars and timelines from advisory council meetings, community events, budget deadlines, or school/district celebrations;

  • Reports from the needs assessment and asset mapping process, including synthesis of strategies and input from various stakeholders (such as presentations, survey data, and other “street level” information);

  • Work products and outputs (such as previous/related grant applications, LCAP information, report outs from the needs assessment process, goals and priority documents);

  • Examples and a log of communications and presentations to school boards and other stakeholder groups.

And if you’re considering applying for the next round of the CCSPP implementation grant (which is supposed to come out in a few months), now is the time to start putting together some of the materials and information that the grant application will likely require, like:

  • Artifacts from your school’s and district’s planning process to date, including meeting agendas and evidence of stakeholder engagement in the process;

  • Your needs assessment/asset mapping results to date, including an overview of the way your team undertook this process (with a particular emphasis on broad stakeholder engagement). And, ideas or plans for how you’ll revisit this process, gather even more data (including street level, if that wasn’t part of the original process) and engage more stakeholders moving forward;

  • Your proposed community school implementation plan. It’s likely that the next RFA will require an implementation plan. If it doesn’t, it’s good practice to have one in place to at least get your community conversation started and grounded in a shared vision of what you want to accomplish.

Keep in mind: Pulling this information together is not just valuable for a possible grant because as we’ve discussed, a grant is not a community school strategy. Use this important documentation for other funding opportunities. Use it to onboard new partners, advisory council members and/or district staff. Use it to provide valuable background information to site leadership and CS development teams as their work starts to grow. And perhaps most important, use your documentation to keep track of your evolution and progress. Just be sure to keep it organized and up to date. No black holes!

2. Celebrate and look forward

Once the first-week(s)-of-school dust settles, take time with your advisory council to reflect on the work you’ve done together. This could mean acknowledging advisory council members’ time, work and contributions, celebrating progress and wins, or thinking about who else might be added to this team.

Use your start-of-year kickoff meeting to collectively reflect on your work to date.

  • Are there places where you pressed pause that need to be revisited or refined?
  • Have you hit your milestones? Are you ready to move onto the next steps in the process?
  • Any major changes in leadership or participation that you should talk about?
  • Anything you might have done differently, looking back?

Along those lines, if you haven’t done so already, the start of the year is a great time to put together a “next phase” community school development timeline with milestones for the upcoming school year. Just be realistic and specific.

3. Strengthen your relationships

In addition to your work with the advisory council as a whole, take time early in the school year to have individual meetings with advisory council members, too.

One-on-one meetings are a great way to build trust and get a deeper sense of what your advisory council members think is going well and not so well. In a more intimate setting, you’ll be able to gauge council members’ interest in continuing to be a part of the team’s work over the coming school year, and hear about any sticky wickets or concerns. Most importantly, you can thank members personally for all their work thus far.

Even better? It might give you a chance to develop some new champions among your council. Are there folks on your council who could help you cultivate the support of one or two school board members? Or connect with local elected officials, parents and caregivers, or other groups about the CS work you’re doing? Is there someone on your council who could surface possible partners and stakeholders that you haven’t connected with yet? You’ll never know until you have some strategic one-on-one conversations, and the start of the school year is a great time to kick ‘em off.

One last thing. If you haven’t done so already, the start of the school year is a good time to consider planning a large meeting – a “roadshow,” as we like to call it – that convenes community partners, families, representatives from other municipal agencies, and local businesses to share information about CS development. It's a good opportunity to discuss the “what, why, where, when and how,” and the ways different people and teams can support and participate.

Some may consider spring to be a time of renewal and reinvigoration, but school and district folks know that that time is really in the fall. We hope you’re poised to take this fresh and shiny new school year as an opportunity to set the tone – and the table – for the months ahead. And if you’d like more support or resources, give us a shout. We’ll be happy to help.

Melissa Mitchell is Senior Associate at the Community Schools Learning Exchange (CSLX). She brings over 15 years of experience supporting community school development, from providing coaching and direct technical assistance to schools, districts, practitioners and community partners, to working with legislators and policymakers to develop supportive-state level policies that advanced community school development across Illinois. Get in touch with Melissa via email at