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Students and Communities Can Be Better Served via Partnerships Between Community Organizations and Schools

Research BriefHealthy SchoolsMay 8 2024

This series from the Innovation to Evidence Project team at Child Trends aims to help practitioners, policymakers, and researchers transform K-12 school systems to better meet the needs of students, families, and communities. This practice guide focuses on community-school partnerships and their potential to transform school systems.

Students, families, and communities want to be heard and understood, especially when it comes to school issues that directly impact their daily lives, and community-school partnerships can help meet student, family, and community needs in schools. These partnerships feature collaborations between community organizations and schools that involve sharing and/or developing resources to better serve students and communities at large.

Community partners include organizations that serve students, families, and individuals in diverse ways, and partnerships develop through relationship- and trust-building (see our first blog about how that process works). Community partners can connect with schools to share their resources, which creates bridges of collaboration that may improve community organization offerings and school experiences for students. Community partners can also work with schools to address issues impacting the community that may hinder how students engage in school.

In this practice guide, we aim to help education practitioners and researchers learn more about building community-school partnerships. To guide our readers through this process, we’ll use an example—a fictional partnership between Apple Tree School District and El Centro Latino del Midwest—to illustrate the key elements and strategies that lead to a successful community-school partnership.

Developing a community-school partnership

Let’s imagine what an effective community-school partnership might look like. To illustrate, we’ll examine a hypothetical partnership between community and school leaders at Apple Tree School District and El Centro Latino del Midwest (El Centro), a nonprofit community organization. El Centro’s mission is to be a one-stop shop for Latino communities needing greater access to education, health, and legal resources.

As Jorge, El Centro’s executive director, reflects on current needs within the community, he identifies a greater need for resources geared toward the growing population of Latinos in the Apple Tree School District. To support this, Jorge aims to ensure that Latino communities in schools know that the organization is a place to receive supports. Jorge initiates a community-school partnership by setting up a meeting with Janel, the principal of Acorn Elementary School. Jorge and Janel meet to discuss the services that El Centro could offer. Over the next few months, this initial meeting grows into a partnership that includes other schools throughout the district, as well as the superintendent of Apple Tree School District.

Over the course of the next year, the team of schools and the superintendent work alongside Jorge to develop strategies to connect El Centro’s services to Latino families in schools. With Jorge’s initial goal in mind—connecting Latino families in Apple Tree School District and the community with El Centro’s supports—El Centro and the school district decide to host a family fun fair event to promote engagement with Latino families in the district. The event includes tables and booths from local community mental health providers that serve Latino populations, tipsheets on healthy habits for testing season, and local food vendors that cater and donate healthy, culturally relevant snacks to students. The family fun fair is a successful example of meeting both community and school needs.

In the next section, we’ll show how partners can follow three steps to translate a vision into actions.

Figure 1. Three steps for creating strong community-school partnerships

Three steps for creating strong community-school partnerships

To build a strong community-school partnership, the Apple Tree-El Centro team participated in three main steps (see also Figure 1):

  1. They designed a shared vision and goal(s) for their partnership.
  2. They developed shared norms and expectations, communication processes, and feedback cycles.
  3. They created consistent and meaningful opportunities for engagement.

Below, we describe how the team from the example engaged in these steps during their partnership building and how such steps will benefit any community-school partnership.

First, the team designed a shared vision and goal(s) for the partnership. This step provides opportunities for partners to develop an aligned vision and goals for their partnership. In the example, El Centro and Apple Tree School District leaders identified a shared need for their community—increasing family engagement and access to services—and collaborated on a unified vision and goals to address this need. The team also developed a shared mission statement and objectives for their family engagement events, including the forthcoming family fun event, which met both the district’s and El Centro’s priorities.

Next, the team developed shared norms and expectations, communication processes, and feedback cycles. This step supports effective implementation and continuous improvement within community-school partnerships. Specifically, this ensures that engagement between partners includes a positive partnership environment; clear, explicit roles and responsibilities; and consistent, practical, and accessible opportunities for communicating accomplishments, challenges, and concerns. In our example, Janel and Jorge developed live online documents that could be accessed, revisited, and refined by any team member at any point—including information on group norms and expectations, materials for the family fun fair to be reviewed prior to team meetings, and a rolling anonymous form for team members to provide feedback on current planning for the overall partnership and specific events such as the family fun event.

Finally, the team created consistent and meaningful opportunities for engagement. This step facilitates opportunities to build productive relationships between partners and meet partnership goals and objectives. In our example, Jorge and Janel jointly developed a revised team meeting schedule and agendas that clearly articulated both meeting objectives and planning activities for the family fun fair. Some proposed activities were team-building activities to test the team’s knowledge of resources available to Latino students.

As shown here, community-school partnerships can start from a simple connection that occurs between communities and schools. Although our example is fictional, we’ll now share an example of a real-life community organization’s partnership with the schools in their community, as well as the partnership’s impacts! Watch the interview to learn how Kingmakers of Oakland’s CEO, Chris Chatmon, has led his organization to achieve effective community-school partnerships.

Video: Kingmakers of Oakland’s Approach to Community-School Partnerships

Kingmaker’s of Oakland’s Approach to Community School Partnerships
Kingmakers of Oakland’s Approach to Community-School Partnerships
Play video

Key questions for engaging in community-school partnerships

There are four key themes to consider for fruitful community-school partnerships: 1) mission and goals, 2) knowledge, 3) investment, and 4) impact. Below, we detail each theme and offer a set of related questions (also see Figure 2 for a visual depiction of these themes).

  • Mission and Goals: How does this partnership align and meet both your goals and mission for the partnership and the school(s)’ goals and mission? Consider why you are interested in this community-school partnership. Is there something that an organization can do to help transform the school systems in your community (e.g., improve students’ learning experiences)? Before making a connection about a potential community-school partnership, be sure to internally articulate your “why” for the partnership.
  • Knowledge: How much do you know about the community and/or schools you want to engage with? It’s important to assess how much you know about the community or schools that you want to partner with. Have you spent time being an active participant in the community or schools, as a parent or in another role? Make sure that you and your team get to know the community and/or schools you want to engage, as well as the people who would be part of this partnership.

Figure 2. Key Themes to Consider in Community-School Partnerships.

Key Themes to Consider in Community-School Partnerships.

  • Investment: How can this partnership be an investment in your mission’s success? What areas of the partnership can support the school(s)’ goals for success? Both school and community partners should discuss the partnership’s individual and mutual benefits and value. Partnerships take an investment of time and resources, so it’s important to understand what value they bring to everyone involved. Also consider potential differences and similarities in your missions. How will you develop a partnership that aligns with and meets both your needs?
  • Impact: What impact do you want this partnership to have today, in one year, and in five years? It’s important to envision what a potential partnership would bring into fruition. How can entering this partnership help transform the school system? In what ways can the partnership change students’ lives and the community for the better? Also consider the equitable impact you would like to have through your community-school partnership. For instance, how can the partnership ensure that all students and families—regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, and other dimensions of identity—are served? Community-school partnerships can represent a great opportunity to meet students’, families’, and communities’ needs while also building on their strengths.


Community-school partnerships can be extremely transformative for school systems, especially if they add resources and services that schools simply are not able to provide with their current infrastructure. The keys to successful community-school partnerships—which will determine the partnership’s success—are mutual respect and shared decision-making between school and community organizations and the team running the partnership. As our examples have highlighted, these partnerships can be very fruitful and bring about great and positive changes for schools and communities.


Suggested citation

Aceves, L., Ball, J., Angeles-Figueroa, J., & Holquist, S. (2024). Students and communities can be better served via partnerships between community organizations and schools. Child Trends. DOI: 10.56417/1174q8224i