Education Spotlight: The Full-Service Community School Model’s Impact in Schools

Posted on July 8, 2024


Isaiah Fudge
ACNJ Director,
Positive Youth Development

Many issues in public education continue to persist. Among them are chronic absenteeism, student discipline, and teacher retention. Data quantifying these problems are alarming. As of the 2022-23 school year, New Jersey has a 16.6% chronic absenteeism rate, lower than many other states, but still strikingly high. Out-of-school suspensions—only one category related to student discipline—are up by 6,470 from 2021-22, with 44,261 suspensions reported across the state. Also, there were actually more full-time teachers reported for the 2022-23 school year than the 2013-14 school year, but the data shows gradual decline in teacher workforce in ELA (-8.37%) and Math (-7.97%). Additionally, 10% of total teachers exited the profession in 2022-23, compared to 7.4% in 2013-14. 

In its recently released national Kids Count Data Book, the Annie E. Casey Foundation highlights the effectiveness of community schools—a potential answer to the issues named. Full Service Community Schools (FSCS) are traditional public schools that utilize resources from the community to improve the school climate and the well-being and success of students. Through a four-pillar system, FSCS in areas of New Jersey (such as Jersey City, Orange, Paterson, and Trenton) and many other states, positively impact the performance and well-being of students, their families, and their local communities. The FSCS model is most effective with legislation and/or proper funding and support. Further research shows the benefits this model has in crucial areas.

What are Full-Service Community Schools?

Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS) are traditional public schools that leverage resources from the community to improve student wellness and outcomes; to improve school climate and decrease staff burden; and to improve access and opportunity for the entire local community. Services in each school vary, as all FSCS reflect the distinctive needs of the communities they serve. Still, each school mobilizes critical resources from the community to improve students’ physical, mental, emotional, and academic wellness. FSCS are also designed to reprieve overburdened faculty, staff, and administration, and support the wellness of all people in the community. While each school is unique, all FSCS share four characteristics—the 4 pillars of the full-service model. They are:

  1. Integrated student supports
    Community schools provide a mix of different services that are specifically tailored to the particular needs of the students and families of their respective communities. A dedicated staff member coordinates customized supports with examples including health services; tutoring; parent education classes, job training and placement services; housing assistance; and nutrition programs.
  2. Expanded learning time and opportunities
    The schools provide increased access to after-school tutoring, physical activities, and experiential learning, all of which have lasting impact on students’ attendance, behavior, and achievement. Higher graduation rates, development of social, emotional, and leadership skills, and reduced involvement in systems are also residual effects of expanded learning time and opportunities.
  3. Family and community engagement
    When schools, parents, and communities engage, the bonds between them become stronger, schools become hubs, and the outcomes for students become greater. Schools improve when families participate in their programs, as they get to witness their conditions first hand. Parents become involved in decision making, and because of clearer understanding of the schools landscape, lend more support for their children’s education.
  4. Collaborative leadership and practice
    Collaborative leadership and practice involves shared decision making between teachers, administrators, students, staff, and families. It guarantees inclusive implementation, and creates shared ownership of the work. Local assets become more crucial because of the knowledge locals have about them, or because of the need they have for them. Schools become better equipped to serve the community when everyone is included in decision making; everyone works together in harmony and youth become more likely to succeed.

The Work of Full-Service Community Schools In and Around New Jersey:

In New Jersey, Jersey City Public Schools (JCPS), Orange Public Schools (OPS), Paterson Public Schools PPS), and Trenton Public Schools (TPS) have formal FSCS arrangements with any of the schools in their respective districts. Nonprofits including Mercer Street Friends (TPS), St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation (PPS), and Center for Supportive Schools (JCPS) lead work in their respective locations. State colleges have also gotten involved, with Montclair State University, The College of New Jersey, and others contributing to FSCS work across the state. Organizations like New Jersey Community Schools Coalition work to unite supporters and advocates of FSCS around its aid and expansion in the state. A school could be deploying all four pillars effectively, essentially making it a community school, even without state-level support.

Of the 697 educational agencies in the state, 593 being school districts, only four districts—Jersey City Public Schools, Orange Public Schools, Paterson Public Schools, and Trenton Public Schools—are known to formally implement a full-fledged FSCS model in any of their schools.

Still, many schools in New Jersey school districts function similarly to a FSCS– they capitalize on teaming with local organizations. In New Brunswick, for instance, several schools partner with the local nonprofit, PRAB, to combat issues like low academic performance.  In Camden, the Campbell’s Soup Company helps address students’ nutritional wellness through its Full Futures partnership.  Several schools in Newark engage local resources like South Ward Promise Neighborhood and the Newark Community Street Team to combat chronic absenteeism and youth safety. Nationally, several states have FSCS in their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan:  Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Additionally, in states like California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Vermont, and Virginia, and in D.C., they have administrative, financial and/or legislative commitment to implementing FSCS, having established an “Office of Community Schools,” technical assistance centers, and/or other avenues supporting the model. 

How are FSCS implemented?

The most effective FSCS receive sufficient funding and technical assistance. Funding allows for effective planning, hiring, asset coordination, and support for programmatic implementation. The Biden-Harris administration has consistently earmarked at least $75 million to fund FSCS nationally. States can support the model through competitive grants, entitlement funding, or supporting technical assistance centers. Effective FSCS show clear evidence of all four FSCS pillars, implementing them purposefully. The process starts with a thorough needs assessment, something that can be as simple as beginning to document recurring issues among students and their families in the community. This could be anything from violence intervention, to substance abuse issues, to food insecurity. The assessment is customized to that specific school’s needs. All school stakeholders—students, families, community members, teachers, administrators, staff—must be part of the initial needs assessment, in addition to thorough collection and examination of school data. Administrators coordinate with the local or national organizations that could address their school stakeholders’ needs, leveraging funding and/or legislation that supports the partnership. A lead partner—led by a Site Coordinator or Community School Director—coordinates all services within the school, collaborating on leadership items with school administrators, families, and other school stakeholders.

The Impact of FSCS

Research shows that the FSCS model positively impacts youth development. Nationally, the FSCS model increases safety, reduces chronic absenteeism, increases teacher retention, and boosts student academic performance, among other benefits. In 2019, 85% of students at Felicitas & Gonzalo Mendez High School in Los Angeles, California, reported feeling safe at school, 15 points higher than the national average. Hoover Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, reduced referrals for disruptive behavior, and increased English Language Learners’ growth on language acquisition tests by 30 points in 2022-23. Many other national successes can be highlighted. In N.J., despite the few FSCS, there are data that highlight FSCS’ effectiveness in the state. In 2021, for example, Mahatma K. Gandhi School, PS #23 in Jersey City, reported an increase in school attendance by 10 points, to reach 90%--higher than the current state attendance rate of 83.4%--only three years after becoming a FSCS. That same school also retained 95% of its teachers for the 2022-23 school year, despite the state’s ongoing teacher shortage crisis. From 2011-2015, suspension rates at Paterson Public Schools’ Reverend Dr. Frank Napier Academy dipped by 17%. Since its inception in 2017 through 2019, chronic absenteeism decreased by 18% at Luis Munoz-Rivera Community Middle School in Trenton. Additionally, students saw a 13% increase in their average daily attendance rate from the 2020-21 school year to 2021-22 school year. The school-wide grade point average also increased 8%.

What's Next?

In January 2024, S2243 was introduced to the N.J. legislature. This bill would establish a five-year community schools pilot program in N.J. S2528—which would create an “Office of Community Schools” in N.J, and would appropriate $10,000,000 to do so—has also been introduced. It remains to be seen if this legislation will pass. If legislation isn’t passed, but funding is allocated, N.J. could see a rise in the amount of technical assistance provided to schools already doing FSCS work. This would drastically improve the effectiveness of some of the de facto work FSCS being done. Regardless, the FSCS model is worth further exploration, as it appears primed to catapult success.