“Community school” is a term used to define an approach used to improve the success of students, families and a community through collaborations between a school and a community partner(s).

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships, according to the Coalition for Community Schools in Washington, D.C.

All community schools share the same focus – to assess and meet the unique needs of the school community. However, they vary in their approach to engaging partners and organizing resources.

It is not possible for schools to provide sufficient guidance and support alone; they must work in concert with the total community to assist children as they grow.


Described below are some of the most common approaches to community schools involving partnerships found in community school literature. It is by no means an exhaustive list. The below summary of community school approaches was derived from the work of Ellis, (2019), The Impact of the Community Partnership Schools Model Community School on Graduation and Attendance Rates in One Florida High School (1).

Multiple Core Partners Approach

Schools or school districts interested in exploring the idea of a community school are not limited to engaging just one core partner. In the multiple core partner approach, two or more entities partner with a school; establish shared governance; and commit time, personnel and resources to eliminate barriers to student success.

The Community Partnership Schools™ model is a multiple core partner approach co-founded in 2010 at Evans High School in Orlando by the Children’s Home Society of Florida, Orange County Public Schools and University of Central Florida. Community Partnership Schools always have these four core partners: a school district, a healthcare provider, a nonprofit, and a university or college. They may have other core partners as well.

Community-Based Lead Agency Approach

The community-based-lead-agency approach is built on a partnership between a community-based agency and a school. The community-based agency employs a site coordinator or director to lead the community school’s operations. The agency also is responsible for identifying and prioritizing the school’s needs, engaging stakeholders, leveraging resources, and coordinating with service providers to offer on-site programming and supports.

Children’s Aid (formerly Children’s Aid Society), a private child welfare agency in New York City, has been operating community schools using the community-based lead agency approach since 1992.

University-Assisted Approach

The University-Assisted Community Schools (UACS) approach involves a partnership between a school or school district and a university or college. The university or college serves as the lead partner and appoints a coordinator to strategize and manage the community school’s operations. The coordinator also works to mobilize the vast resources of a university or college to help transform a traditional public school.

Two University of Pennsylvania students initiated the UACS approach in 1985. Today, this approach is a major component of U Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships in Philadelphia.

In Florida, The Education Effect uses the UACS approach in a partnership between Florida International University and schools in Miami’s urban core.

School as Lead Agency Approach

In the school-as-lead-agency approach, a school or school district assumes the lead role and hires a coordinator or director to oversee community school partnerships and operations.

For the Evansville, Indiana, school system, leveraging community support it “paramount.” Evansville created a School Community Council to guide the work of partners and schools from the district level. It also has assigned district staff to support the transformation of its schools into community schools (learn more about this school-as-lead-agency approach).

Community-Managed Approach

“Community-managed” community schools are led by parents, community members or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They also are more common outside of the United States, particularly in communities that either created a local school or assumed the responsibility for managing a government-established school.

Save the Children reaches millions of children though its education programs. The NGO works with communities to create safe and stimulating preschool environments, as well as to support a child’s education at home. It also works with national and local governments to improve access to education, including in times of conflict or in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Ellis, A. (2019). The Impact of the Community Partnership Schools Model Community School on Graduation and Attendance Rates in One Florida High School (1). Doctoral dissertation, University of Central Florida. STARS.