Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and their community partners have used community schooling as a strategy to support students, their families, and the broader school community, creating the Community Schools Initiative (CSI) in 2002. A key component of the initiative is identifying the needs of the school community and providing high-quality programming and services to address the academic, social, emotional, and other needs of students enrolled in initiative schools.
The initial CSI cohort consisted of 20 CPS schools, which were partnered with arts, youth development, and social service organizations. To date, more than 200 schools and almost 50 organizations have participated in the initiative.
AIR began working with CPS on the initiative starting in 2003, providing training and technical assistance on the design and delivery of high-quality out-of-school time programming. In 2011, CPS contracted with AIR and its partner, Diehl Consulting Group, to conduct a comprehensive, mixed-methods evaluation of the initiative. AIR’s evaluation relied on the CSI Implementation Framework and had three primary purposes:
- Support learning about what constitutes effective implementation of the community school strategy and understand how well schools are meeting goals related to improving implementation efforts;
- Monitor implementation and outcomes to determine whether schools and participating youth are progressing as expected and to identify promising practices in adopting the community school strategy; and
- Assess impact on youth outcomes using rigorous quasi-experimental designs.
To help schools gauge their progress in implementing the community school strategy and identify areas for improvement, the evaluation team developed a Continuous Quality Improvement Process (CQIP) and an aligned set of self-assessment rubrics. Schools have identified the following benefits associated with completing this process:
- Positive changes to programming, such as taking steps to incorporate greater stakeholder voice into program design and delivery;
- Increased family and community engagement; and
- Increased youth engagement in programming.
Implementation of the community school strategy at a given school ideally will support the achievement of a wide variety of possible positive outcomes for participating youth, including the development of social and emotional skills and competencies, improvements in academic achievement, the development of behaviors important to school success, and better health and well-being among enrolled youth.
AIR has completed two impact reports that assess how well Community Schools Initiative schools are doing in supporting these types of school-related outcomes. Collectively, these reports demonstrated that ongoing and sustained participation in community school programming across multiple school years was associated with:
- Higher levels of academic achievement in reading and mathematics;
- Improvement in school-day attendance and reductions in misconducts; and
- Improvement on a series of school climate scales associated with the 5Essentials survey.
AIR is studying how schools and partner organizations have altered their approach during the global coronavirus pandemic, including a shift to remote learning and engagement. Community schools are likely to play an important part in efforts to address the lingering challenges associated with the pandemic, including student learning loss and the economic instability that families experience. AIR will continue to document how CSI schools evolve to address these needs, including what supports and activities they provide.