Community Schools Are Priorities for State, Counties…But What Are They?

Maryland’s community school model is an increasing priority in funding and programming for the State and  local school districts, but what are they and how are they performing?

Maryland’s community school model is on the rise, receiving increased priority and funding from counties and the State, rapidly expanding under the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (“The Blueprint”). Currently, Maryland has over 300 community schools in operation across the state and it is estimated that by fiscal year 2027, about one-third of all schools will be classified as such.

The Maryland State Department of Education describes community schools as the following:

Community schools promote positive, equitable outcomes by providing students and families with the physical and mental health, academic, and extracurricular supports needed to thrive. Community schools serve as hubs that bring families, communities, and partners together to remove barriers to learning. Using an asset-based approach, community schools strive to strengthen connections to generate improved student outcomes.

The model is of increasing importance throughout Maryland, in large part in thanks to The Blueprint:

Maryland continues to prioritize community schools through the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. This landmark legislation is designed to improve the quality of education for Mayland students and close achievement gaps. Included in this legislation are Concentration of Poverty grants for schools that serve large populations of students experiencing poverty. These grants aim to serve students, families, and the community by establishing community schools.

The whole-student model and wraparound services

A key component of community schools is their “whole-student” or wraparound services approach. According to MSDE:

Community schools work in collaboration with community partners, local governments, and other stakeholders to identify and address structural and institutional barriers to achievement. Leveraging the power of the collective allows community schools to provide resources to students and families where they need it the most—neighborhoods that have been historically underfunded and underserved. Community schools provide a wide array of wraparound services that enhance student’s ability to be successful.

Data has shown that adverse community conditions often translate to “lower test scores, lower graduation rates and more absences than their wealthier peers.” Contrarily, shows schools in more affluent areas tend to “score higher on standardized tests than schools with high poverty levels, helping to fuel the race gap in standardized testing.” The Baltimore Banner explains:

Proponents of community schools say progress can be made if students’ basic needs — food, clothing, and shelter, for example — are met.

‘This is not a new idea; schools have been seen as hubs for the community for a long time,’ said Maier, of the Learning Policy Institute.

The Baltimore Banner recently explained that the whole-student approach of Maryland’s community schools “looks at each student holistically and is grounded in data showing that children living with limited means and on society’s margins tend to fare worse in school.” It then deploys wraparound services to address all of the students’ needs. Examples of wraparound services include:
  • Extended learning time
  • Extended school year
  • Safe transportation to and from school
  • Vision and dental services
  • Expanded school-based health center services
  • Additional social workers, counselors, and psychologists
  • Additional mentors and restorative practice coaches
  • Healthy food in-school and out-of-school
  • Access to mental health practitioners

Community school coordinators are critical to the community school model and implementing the whole-student approach. The Baltimore Banner notes:

Each school coordinator conducts a needs assessment for their school, surveying students, teachers, families and community members about their priorities and obstacles in the classroom. Each school’s end result may look different — the barriers could be high rates of pregnancy in one school and limited English proficiency in another.

Challenges and considerations of Maryland’s community schools

The March 21 Baltimore Banner article outlined many of the considerations and challenges facing Maryland’s community schools, especially in-light of their expansion under The Blueprint:

Despite progress, some say the state’s quick scale-up of community schools may have abandoned best practices. ‘Quantity isn’t necessarily quality,’ said Shamoyia Gardiner, executive director of Strong Schools Maryland, which was founded in 2017 as the advocacy arm behind the Blueprint.

According to The Banner, some of these challenges include:

  • Community school coordinators feeling like they aren’t receiving enough support from MSDE and the interim state community school coordinator;
  • Coordinators, now mostly State employees and no longer nonprofit staff, are stifled by a lack of access to network and resources that nonprofits have access to;
  • There remains a lack of buy-in In some of the more remote parts of the state, which have fewer nonprofit partners to help implement community schools; and
  • Measuring success among community schools itself also poses challenges “because each one is so different. And some data shows the ones that do the best have been around the longest.”

More attention give to Maryland community schools

The Maryland General Assembly is currently considering HB 1267 / SB 816 that would require MSDE to identify at least 10 low-performing community schools and require the governor appropriate more annual money for technical assistance for them. Both bills, however, have not moved their respective committees, with just a week left in the 2023 legislative session.

Additionally, local NPR affiliate WYPR also recently featured Maryland’s community school model. An April 3 episode of WYPR’s podcast The Maryland Curiosity Bureau spoke with the same education leaders and local community schools as The Baltimore Banner. The podcast’s description reads:

What exactly are community schools? How are they funded? How are they different? And how well do they work? Maryland is spending almost 4 billion dollars a year to convert public schools to the community school model, and Baltimore Banner reporters Hallie Miller and Kristen Griffith join Aaron to visit some community schools and see how it’s going for students and their families.

Featured in the podcast episode were:

Useful links