Cover: Developing Community Schools at Scale

Developing Community Schools at Scale

Implementation of the New York City Community Schools Initiative

Published Oct 11, 2017

by William R. Johnston, Celia J. Gomez, Lisa Sontag-Padilla, Lea Xenakis, Brent Anderson

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Research Questions

  1. To what extent have the core structures and services of the NYC-CS been implemented as intended across the 118 schools that were involved in the initiative since its inception?
  2. How can we understand how the schools have been developing along the four previously mentioned core capacities through estimating composite scores that capture schools' capacity as of school year 2016–2017?
  3. What are some of the factors that were associated with observed variation in schools' capacity development?

This report takes stock of the implementation of the New York Community Schools Initiative (NYC-CS) as of the 2016–2017 school year by analyzing data from the first two full years of program implementation. There are three primary goals for studying the early implementation of the NYC-CS: (1) describe the extent to which the core structures and services of the NYC-CS have been implemented as intended across the 118 schools that were involved in the initiative since its inception, (2) understand how the schools have been developing their capacity in four core areas — continuous improvement, coordination, connectedness, and collaboration — through estimating composite scores that capture schools' capacity as of SY 2016–2017, and (3) analyze some of the factors that were associated with observed variation in schools' capacity development. The findings of this report will inform district decisions regarding the priorities and support needed to sustain the NYC-CS long-term, and they may be useful for other practitioners and policymakers interested in developing or refining holistic school-based programs that support students' and communities' academic, social, and emotional well-being. A follow-up report on the impact of the NYC-CS on student and school outcomes is set to be released in 2019.

Key Findings

Six Core Structures and Services of the NYC-CS Are Being Implemented Across Virtually All Community Schools in the Study

  • The schools have shown a marked increase over time in the prevalence of these components since the onset of the initiative in 2014.
  • There is also substantial variation in the format and degree of program components that schools have in place.

Schools Were More Developed in Their Initiatives Related to Coordination and Connectedness, Compared with Continuous Improvement and Collaboration

  • The largest share of schools indicated that they were in the "maturing" stage, suggesting schools are progressing toward implementing the full community school model.
  • Although the exploratory analysis of the capacity index scores shows variation in schools' development, we found no consistent relationship with structural characteristics such as grade configuration and building colocation status.
  • That aspects of schools' cultural climate were positively associated with capacity development.

NYC-CS Is Providing Complementary Supports for the Schools That It Also Designated as Renewal Schools

  • This is a concurrent school-improvement initiative. Many school leaders expressed optimism about the transformative potential of the community schools approach because it both injects new services into the school setting and changes the social fabric of the school community, for both students and adults.
  • Many school leaders said that the programs and services related to the NYC-CS were helpful complements to the academic-oriented supports of the Renewal School Program, in which many of the study schools also participate.


  • To address the challenges relating to alignment and management of multiple program streams for school leaders, the Office of Community Schools, Office of School Health, and other city agencies should align their methods for interacting with and training up school staff. Not only might this help the burden on schools, but it might also lead to stronger connections between the city agencies themselves.
  • To address the challenges relating timing of program development and annual program cycles, program implementers at the school and district levels should continue to develop ongoing conversation about timing sensitivities. These conversations could range from school-based strategic planning sessions to map out key dates in the weeks and months ahead, or they could take on a larger view to discuss more initiative-wide issues related to program development and refinement.
  • There is a need for a more-focused consideration of city- or district-level strategies and processes that shape the program as a whole and are likely to affect the implementation experiences of schools.
  • It is very important to incorporate the voice of families and students in future studies about program implementation and impact.
  • Scholars should embark on focused analyses into particular program components.
  • The logical next step for this analysis is to involve a shift toward considerations of program impact.

The research described in this report was prepared for the New York City Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity and conducted by RAND Education and RAND Health.

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