Part Three: Data is crucial

In standards for Community Schools established by the Institute for Educational Leadership, data systems and protocols are in place to assure access to relevant individual and aggregate information and to assure transparency of decision-making. This means:

  • School uses a data system, and all staff and partners are trained to use it.
  • Coordinator and partners have access to school data (including student-level data).
  • Student and school-level data reports are reviewed by the Site-Based Leadership Team and multidisciplinary teams.
  • Policies and procedures are in place to safeguard student and family confidentiality.
  • Data sharing and use agreements conform to legal requirements.
  • Students and families sign data release forms.
  • School handbook describes data use for families and students.

Interdisciplinary teams, with the assistance of the Community School Coordinator, use data to prioritize resources and prepare individualized plans to make sure all students get the opportunities and support they need.

  • Team meeting agendas regularly include review of data.
  • Response is differentiated based on data (e.g., response to intervention, multi-tiered system of support).

Agreements are in place to share student data, including services being provided to individual students among school personnel, community school coordinators and community partners. Individual student data, participant feedback, and aggregate outcomes are analyzed regularly by the site leadership team to assess program quality and progress and develop strategies for improvement.

When a community school is juggling hundreds of community partners, it’s crucial to be able to quickly and easily see the impact that partners’ programs are having on the learning community. By bringing all partners into one place, a community school can do just that — while saving valuable time and resources that would have been spent tracking and compiling data manually between siloed information.

Also, by integrating student data, schools can pinpoint influencing factors tied to higher levels of student engagement. With family permission, community partners can view important components of a student profile such as learning inventories, academics, behavior, portfolios, and education plans. Knowing the full, real-time picture of a student provides the foundation for partners to create engaging programs that truly help the student.

One of the major goals of community partnerships is to help students develop the skills they need to be more successful both in and out of school. Being able to link community program involvement with higher student success rates now allows schools to better allocate resources and make a bigger impact in their students’ lives.

Supporting the ‘Whole Child’

According to Sara Sneed, President of the NEA Foundation, “Community Schools represent an approach to public education where educators, schools, parents and student leaders engage in authentic partnership with one another and with agencies and organizations at the local, state, and national levels to offer students, schools, and whole communities unprecedented support, encouraging everyone’s optimal educational experience and both students’ and schools’ improved outcomes. There are more than 5,000 Community Schools in the U.S. today, and their effectiveness has been well-documented.”

5000 Community Schools sounds like a lot, but at present, it only represents about five percent of the public schools in the United States.

States like California are making significant commitments to the concept, so expect that number to rise. They are launching a $3 billion, multiyear transition to Community Schools. Community Schools are defined in California statute as public schools with strong and intentional community partnerships ensuring pupil learning and whole child and family development. Other states are following suit, but even if the number of schools doubles, that still leaves 90 percent of schools who do not yet meet the definition. And that may be very good news.

Supporting the whole child means implementing intentional measures to monitor social, emotional, and academic health, and taking proactive measures to meet and exceed all needs.

On a practical level, supporting the whole child is more than compiling data and providing trauma-informed services, mental health services, behavioral supports and social services. Supporting the whole child with functional systems allows you to properly and adequately measure the effectiveness of your partnerships and see if students are receiving the actualized support that was designed for them.

Data management at this scope of detail can appear as a looming initiative for many school administrators and staff. However, it can be made easy by implementing a system that tracks data on all aspects of the child.

For your school or district to run seamlessly, here are some questions you’ll want to ask:

What type of partner or program is performing best?

By figuring out which partner or program is getting the most sign-ups, the highest student engagement, or reaching other metrics of success for your school, you can make more informed decisions about what types of programs to invest more resources in. By viewing engagement, demand, and retention, you have the tools to address and assist lower-performing programs.

Which partners do we need more of?

Getting a top-level view of your programs is helpful to ensure that they’re aligned with your annual priorities. For instance, if you have a goal to improve social emotional learning and mental health for your students, you’ll need a way to check that you’re providing plenty of opportunities to do so through the connections offered with your community partnerships.

What can partners do to increase the success of students in their program?

Student engagement is tied to higher academic achievement, better workforce preparedness, and improved student success. By getting a comprehensive view of students that are participating in your programs, you can find factors that are driving engagement or uncover issues that might be barriers to engagement.

What can we do to increase family program engagement rates?

Family engagement is shown to have a positive impact on student achievement. It’s more important than ever to get families involved so students have the support systems they need to succeed.

Which programs lead to higher student success?

One of the major goals of community partnerships is to benefit students and help them develop the skills they need to be more successful both in and out of school. Being able to link community program involvement with higher student success rates allows you to better allocate resources and make a bigger impact in your students’ lives.

Once data is compiled, it should be presented to stakeholders in an easy-to-understand format that simplifies your decision of which actions and supports should be put in place.

Connecting students to community partners that meet their specific needs is one action that can be taken based on data. Tapping into your community resources and partners is vital in supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic health with a Community Schools model.

You can also use data to ensure inclusivity as well as culturally affirming and relevant teaching practices and learning opportunities that are necessary to supporting every child.

Data can help us employ restorative practices, rather than punitive and exclusionary discipline that detaches students from schools and the much needed supports that are available there.

All initiatives, data-driven or otherwise, should foster a student’s sense of purpose, belonging, and agency.

Utilizing a digital partner catalog will simplify organizing and managing partner-based extended learning opportunities. Partner catalogs allow you to measure the amount of students connected to partners, visualize the impact those partners are having on students, and know in what areas that impact exists.

In Part Four, well see how to put all the pieces together to make it happen.

About the author

Zach Vander Veen.jpg

Zach Vander Veen has worn many hats in education, including history teacher, technology coach, administrator, and director of technology. He loves learning, teaching, traveling and seeking adventures with his family. Currently, Zach is the co-founder and Senior VP of Innovation and Outcomes at, an education management platform.