Pivotal Community Schools Meeting

Pivotal Community Schools Meeting

ForwARd Arkansas and the Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools (ACCS) have long partnered to support the Community School model as a success strategy for schools, students and families across the state. This approach focuses on identifying the needs of and connecting students and families in a specific school to community-based resources and supports that can help remove barriers to learning.

ACCS and ForwARd Arkansas kicked off a new phase of their Community Schools initiative last week when they gathered key stakeholders to discuss how the Community Schools model can be used to support students in both rural schools and schools in cities like Little Rock. Participants included state legislators; representatives from Little Rock Mayor’s Office, Little Rock School District, Rural Community Alliance, Arkansas Education Association, Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and Arkansas Department of Education; as well as a wide range of service providers and representatives from Independence County. 

While the specific approach used in each Community School is determined based on specific local needs, all community schools consist of four key pillars that together create the conditions necessary for students to thrive: 

  • Integrated student supports, such as mental and physical health services 
  • Expanded and enriched learning time and opportunities
  • Active family and community engagement
  • Collaborative leadership and a culture of shared responsibility and collective trust

Featured speaker José Muñoz, director of the Coalition for Community Schools, a national organization that serves state community school coalitions, emphasized that these four pillars do not benefit only poor, black and brown children or only students in urban districts. They can support children in need of supports in all schools at all income levels. 

In the days ahead, we will organize meetings in Little Rock to consider how the community schools model could be benefit the district and continue to raise awareness of and identify resources to implement community schools in rural districts throughout the state.  

Community schools have the potential to level the playing field for all Arkansas students and families by providing additional student and family supports to meet the challenges poverty creates in children’s lives beyond the classroom. Our drive to ensure equitable opportunity for all students has heightened the urgency to see this solution implemented widely across Arkansas. 

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.

Learn More about the Four Pillars of Community Schools

Our Statement on Community Schools

Our Statement on Community Schools

Well! There is much buzz around the idea of community schools in Central Arkansas. Some may not know much about them, so we will share a very high-level Community Schools 101 here. Then we will share about the work the Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools (ACCS) has been doing since 2017 and by its founders even prior to that initial meeting in March of 2017.

In the context of Little Rock, it’s important to understand that a Community School is not a governance model. It is a student support model that is structured to provide schools, students and their families access to services and resources that will help students to maximize their educational opportunities. This is tailored to each school’s individual student and family needs. These wrap-around services could include after-school care, pre-K for families, health services, mental health, food, clothing, tutoring and student engagement programs such as robotics or a family yoga night.

Community schools are typically managed by a school liaison or staff person, who is often titled community school coordinator. This person is the link between school leadership and teachers, students and families. The coordinator must seek authentic voices as input about the needs to be met. They must structure the partnerships and resulting agreements with organizations and agencies who may operate on or off campus. They must assess and provide for school-wide needs and those of individual students and families. They will meet with providers and families in need of support. They will also be responsible for evaluating those programs and services to determine their effectiveness and efficiency. The Governor referred to them as wrap-around services in a written response to John Brummet shared on Facebook. The Governor said, “The preliminary results tell me that additional wrap-around services do make a difference in the schools.…”

Community schools are not community stakeholders serving as a school’s governing body. Community stakeholders should be partners with the school governance model, usually a school board. They should have meaningful input into the structure and design of community school programming, but community stakeholders don’t operate the school itself in lieu of its official governing board.

ACCS began originally as a partnership between Community Resource Innovations and the Rural Community Alliance. The Coalition invited a network of stakeholders to the table to look for ways to expand community schools in Arkansas. There are a few models of schools with extensive services already in Arkansas. Springdale and Southside (Van Buren County) are just two examples. Neither of these have the full Community School model with a coordinator, but they have focused and effective efforts for meeting student and family service needs.

ACCS partners included state agency representatives, educational professional associations, and a host of nonprofit organizations. Also, a few district representatives participate when possible. Early on the group received support from its founders and was quickly joined by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and ForwARd Arkansas. ACCS heard from national community school professionals. The founders toured and studied several community schools in other states. We went to conferences and we learned. ACCS developed two videos, a website, and a Facebook page to get the word out. There is a corresponding national organization, the Coalition for Community Schools. ACCS participates in two of its national networks: one for State Coalition leaders, and we are new to the Community School Research Network.

ForwARd became more deeply engaged as a result of learnings from its work in five ForwARd communities. ForwARd funded staff travel to a national conference and a subsequent national meeting of state coalition partners. ForwARd has also worked with communities to seek Community School funding.

In the most recent legislative session ForwARd staff, who serve as ACCS facilitators, drafted a resolution near the end of the session. It was run in a bipartisan effort as a Senate Resolution (SR25), sponsored by Sen. Joyce Elliott and Sen. Jim Hendren. As follow-up to that work, Sen. Elliott was one of the first to raise the call for community schools in Little Rock’s “F” schools as one means to better support the student and family stakeholders in those schools. ACCS applauds that direction.

ACCS and ForwARd Arkansas are deeply interested in ensuring that Arkansas’s rural schools are not left out. It will be important to continue to work together to find opportunities in urban and rural environments. To that end ACCS invited the national Director of the Coalition for Community Schools, José Muñoz, to Little Rock. Because of all the ground-work that has been laid by our partners and ForwARd staff, Muñoz is coming. The timing is perfect.

Thank you to all the ACCS members for your valuable time and insights, Rural Community Alliance for believing in community schools and leading, ForwARd Arkansas for staff time and funding support, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) for sharing space with us, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation for initial meeting funds, Community Resource Innovations for funding and organizational efforts, Sen. Elliott and Sen. Hendren for leading with the resolution and to AACF and the Association of Educational Administrators for joining in support of the resolution. Thanks to Gerard Matthews and Brad Cameron who have provided discounted video and web services for us. So many individuals, not named here, have supported and assisted with this work because they seek the best for all our students. New support is coming from all directions.

That best is yet to come. Watch our Facebook page and website. Stay tuned.

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.

Taking “Extra” out of “Extra-Curricular”

Taking “Extra” out of “Extra-Curricular”

This blog post by Sarah McBroom was originally published April 3, 2019, by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF). We are grateful to WRF for allowing us to share its content, and we encourage you to click here to see the organization’s original content and learn more.

Click here to read “Community Schools: Support Outside the Classroom” from ForwARd Arkansas to find out how Community Schools effectively support rural students and families.

What if your kid could go to school, the dentist, and tee-ball practice while you went to yoga and got help with your taxes . . . all in one day, in one building?


ForwARd Arkansas and the Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools have taken action to develop a unique, regional Community Schools model to provide critical support for small rural districts. The result? Last month, the Arkansas Senate adopted a resolution to recognize Community Schools as a strong model to improve achievement and strengthen family and community engagement.

Community schools offer expanded learning and enrichment time with before-school, after-school, weekend, and summer programs for students and their families. Community Schools are a “one-stop shop” children and parents can count on for tutoring, music education, art opportunities, yoga classes, computer courses, adult literacy, GRE preparation . . . you name it, Community Schools do it.

The Community Schools model makes the schoolhouse a hub and a cornerstone for building a more vibrant place to live. Community Schools provide medical, dental, and vision care for students as well as mental health services, housing support, transportation, nutrition education, and immigrant-integration resources for youth and families.


We know that student success requires support beyond the classroom.

  • Research shows Community Schools improve academic achievement, reduce racial and economic achievement gaps, and increase daily school attendance as well as high school graduation rates.

  • Research also shows Community Schools provide a strong return on investment—up to $15 for every dollar invested.

  • Federal funding can be used to support Community Schools, and research shows this model meets the standard for “evidence-based approaches” to support schools identified for comprehensive and targeted support and intervention under the Every Student Succeeds Act.


All children need access to an excellent education in order to create a more equitable Arkansas. This will require innovative solutions that meet the unique needs of students and their families, especially in rural communities.

Click here to read “Community Schools: Support Outside the Classroom” from ForwARd Arkansas to find out how Community Schools effectively support rural students and families.

As program associate at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Sarah McBroom is responsible for providing management and administrative support to implement the Foundation’s education and community change strategies. She conducts research, analyzes data relevant to assessing progress toward Foundation goals, and coordinates program-related activities.

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.

Newsletter – March 2019

Newsletter – March 2019

Next Meeting – April 18, 2019, 11:30am

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools (ACCS) will have our next meeting on the third Thursday in April at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families: Union Station | 1400 West Markham, Suite 306 | Little Rock, AR 72201.

We are hoping the legislative session is over by then. If it’s not, we will email the group for members’ availability. I know we are all hoping it’s over by that time.

Senate Resolution 25 Adopted

Senators Joyce Elliott and Jim Hendren co-sponsored a Senate resolution in support of community schools. Thurman Green was there March 11th to help celebrate its adoption.

U.S. Dept. Education: Full-Service Community School Grant

This program provides support for the planning, implementation, and operation of full-service community schools that improve the coordination, integration, accessibility, and effectiveness of services for children and families.

Community Schools Close-up: Nashville TN

Nashville TN incorporated Community Achieves in its Ford Next Generation of Learning Schools Career Academies.

The Ford Foundation and Nashville Public Schools recognized that supporting students living in poverty was a critical resource for the success of their career academy program and in turn the students of Nashville. ForwARd Arkansas joined a team in early March looking at the programming and resources to improve achievement.

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.

The Case for Community Schools

The Case for Community Schools

Senate Resolution 25 was adopted March 11, 2019, by the Arkansas Senate. The resolution recognized the value of community schools in improving achievement and encouraging community and family engagement. Arkansas should adopt community schools just as neighboring states are doing for these reasons.

In 2018, Arkansas ranked 44th in the nation in child poverty. More than one in five children had families with incomes below the poverty line. This level of poverty is not evenly distributed across the state. Parts of the state have closer to five in five living in poverty.

Schools in high-poverty areas perform poorly. This is true in rural and urban areas of the country. In Arkansas for the 2016-17 school year, there were 205 schools with an 80 percent free and reduced lunch rate or higher. Of these schools, 18 (8.8 percent) received a letter grade of an A or B. Thirty schools with free and reduced lunch data had Fs. Only five of the “F” schools had a poverty level below 80 percent and only one was below 70 percent.

Research shows that poverty affects student learning. Several research studies report that stress and traumatic life associated with poverty result in changes within the brain. The differences can only be offset with targeted efforts to increase quality childhood experiences.

There are always exceptions in outcomes for high-poverty schools. Researchers write about the “silver bullets” that save the day at exemplar schools. In too many of these studies, researchers will describe a high poverty school as having over 60 percent poverty or some other level that pales in comparison to many of our Arkansas districts.

Studies have shown that if you put a low-income student in a school with a low rate of poverty, they will perform better than their peers in high poverty districts. Concentrated poverty makes it difficult to overcome the trajectory of current outcomes. Bringing change to schools with high rates of poverty is like turning the Titanic. Incremental change is the greatest inequity that our most challenged districts face.

 Numerous academic solutions have been applied over the years and millions spent in failing Arkansas schools. Limited successes from state takeovers and highly paid education experts have been short-lived. Despite the establishment of exemplary practices in the schools, poor academic performance persists. The thing all these districts have in common is highly concentrated, unrelenting poverty. Schools are ill-equipped to support large rates of students dealing with homelessness or a host of other poverty-related challenges regardless of which latest and greatest pedagogies are in place.

 Yes, leadership training, experienced high-quality teachers, better curriculum coordination, and instructional pedagogy can bring gains. But school improvement strategies alone, put in place without addressing poverty, won’t succeed. In addition to well-meaning and much-needed education practice improvements, we must address the underlying cause of poor achievement in high-poverty areas of the state. Arkansas needs a comprehensive, integrated set of student supports to turn the tide. These supports will empower the effectiveness of the instructional improvements being established.

 Community school design addresses student needs and engages families and community. Community schools serve as a hub connecting people for school activities and community events, providing a forum to connect families and students to needed services. A community school provides a traditional curriculum alongside a broad range of student and family supports through community partnerships. Examples of these services include health care, food, and nutrition supports, early childhood services, out-of-school opportunities, and programming for parents and families that may range from job training programs to computer literacy or cooking classes. In addition to supports for students, community schools work alongside families and the community to identify and meet local needs. This level of collaborative effort is exactly what the Arkansas Department of Education’s new framework for family and community engagement is designed to accomplish.

Arkansas’s neighboring states are actively moving to implement community school design or expand it. Nearby states with community schools include Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Arkansas has some school districts that are operating in a manner very close to community school design. Southside (Van Buren County) has a large arsenal of student supports adopted when they along with a cohort of other Arkansas schools participated in the Schools of the 21st Century Initiative of Yale University. Springdale is hiring school-based social workers to support students and families. But community school design hasn’t taken root in districts with the highest rates of poverty.

Research on the effectiveness of community schools was cited by the U.S. Department of Education in last year’s release of federal funding for the schools. Community schools are an effective practice to improve student outcomes, promote opportunity, and increase equity. The hard work of the state and districts to improve instructional practice needs fertile ground to be successful. Arkansas should implement community schools to meet the needs of low-income students and improve academic outcomes.

You can train teachers and hire more new leaders. But if you don’t support students, change won’t come. Arkansas needs community schools. Thank you, Arkansas Senators, particularly sponsors Senators Elliott and Hendren, for recognizing the value of community schools.

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.