Back in February, I posted about some of the issues the NYC Community Schools initiative will face as the project gets off the ground, noting there are three school-based issues that, particularly in the early stages, community school stakeholders need to keep in mind as they’re planning.
1. Community Based Organizations (CBOs) are trying to address complicated issues, on an individual child as well as group basis. They’re doing this while working part-time in an institution they don’t manage, that has its own set of priorities - which don’t always match those of its partner(s);
2. Implementation and management of school-CBO partnerships rests very heavily on one individual – a Resource Coordinator – who is expected to have a very wide and deep set of skills and experience.
3. Schools want their CBOs to tackle a variety of needs, ones that are not always part of the original partnership agreements.
This is the second of three posts in which I explore how to address these issues and develop productive school-CBO relations from the beginning of the partnership. I’ll be focusing on issue two - Resource Coordinators - in this post. Here’s the discussion on issue 1.
[*Disclaimers and clarifications can be found at the end of this post.*]
Issue 2: Implementation and management of school-CBO partnerships rests very heavily on one individual – a Resource Coordinator – who is expected to have a very wide and deep set of skills and experience.
Recommendation: Scale back the job description significantly to focus on the on-site work; give particular tasks (e.g., professional development and data collection) to those who specialize in these areas.
[NOTE: Each CBO entering into a community school partnership is given grant funds to hire a full-time Resource Coordinator who is based in the partner school. Each school has its own Resource Coordinator (i.e., if a CBO works in three schools it hires three Resource Coordinators.)]
Here, here and here are typical job descriptions for Resource Coordinators; all were posted by CBOs in the last few months in response to their partnering with schools under the NYC Community Schools Initiative. As I read them I marveled at the set of skills and experience asked for. The Resource Coordinator needs to be able to: conduct needs assessments; build relationships with school staff, parents, children and CBOs; develop and implement strategies to address attendance and drop-out; identify research/evidence based interventions and practices; recruit students to participate in a three-tiered intervention program; coordinate services; develop and implement family engagement strategies; build a variety of school-based processes and systems; deliver professional development to CBO and school staff; develop and maintain summer services when school isn’t session. Oh, and keep records and report out data, including outcomes.
All for someone with “at least five years of experience” and for an annual salary of between $35,000-55,000.
These job descriptions contain the work of at least three full-time staff; there are entire organizations dedicated to doing one of the activities listed here. If someone goes into a school with these parameters, s/he’ll most likely try to do a little of everything, with the result that nothing will take hold.
Scaling back the job description so it prioritizes on-site work is a clear first step to take. Resource Coordinators need to focus on: i) building relationships with families, children and school staff; ii) identifying who is at-risk and what services they need; iii) linking them to available services that address these needs; iv) tracking their own work. And even in these areas s/he’ll need support, for example to build the processes and systems that will sustain the work over time.
The Resource Coordinator is so important because s/he’s full-time and based in the school – and thus is best equipped to serve as the conduit between the school community and the CBOs delivering services to them. Developing interventions and strategies; relationship building with outside providers and government agencies; providing professional development; collecting data outside the scope of tracking immediate work should be given to those skilled and experienced in the work.
CBOs should be very careful about the data burden they put on the Resource Coordinator. The NYC Community Schools Initiative is working under a very tight timeline but within a very loose framework (I wouldn’t call it a model). There’s going to be pressure on participating CBOs to collect data to explain both what they’re doing and how it’s delivering positive outcomes. CBOs, perpetually strapped for resources, will in turn put pressure on the Resource Coordinator – the full-time, on-site staff member - to collect this data.
Yes, people exist who are great at collecting and analyzing data as well as building relations and linking children to appropriate services. But there aren’t many of them. Because each of these activities requires specialized skills and training, you generally focus on one or the other. CBOs, therefore, should have someone on-site who can support the data collection, leaving the Resource Coordinator to focus on services. This person, additionally, could help the Resource Coordinator with activities that straddle the data/service provision divide, such as needs assessments, locating evidence-based interventions, and developing methods to identify at-risk students.
* Disclaimers and clarifications *
· I’m using the term CBO to encompass non-profits as well as community-based organizations deploying a particular program or intervention in a school.
· I’m talking about programs that provide student supports (e.g., counseling, mental and general health, enrichment, attendance and behavior, family outreach) more than a specific academic intervention
· This is a less evidence based post than usual. I’m working from my many years of experience and have numerous examples, but am not going into all of them for the sake of brevity. If anyone is curious about what I’m basing the recommendations on, email me and we can get into the details.