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There is strong evidence that, when schools partner with families and community-based organizations, these partnerships for learning improve children’s development and school success. They provide a seamless web of supports designed to ensure positive learning experiences for children and youth.

In this paper, we draw on the experiences of national organizations and a set of community schools that have built these learning partnerships, and examine seven key elements that we find to be essential in building them. Our paper serves as a guide to school districts and their partners as they consider whether and how to implement a partnerships for learning model. It also informs those who have already established these partnerships and wish to reflect on how to maximize partnership—and student—success.

The community school partners include the schools themselves, families, community-based organizations, health care providers, governmental agencies, and other service providers. Together these partners provide access to a broad range of supports in such areas as youth development, physical and mental health, family support, family and community engagement, and community development. Described in detail in the paper, the seven important elements that are key to developing successful and sustainable partnerships for learning are:

  1. Shared vision of learning,
  2. Shared leadership and governance,
  3. Complementary partnerships,
  4. Effective communications,
  5. Regular and consistent sharing of information about youth progress,
  6. Family engagement, and
  7. Collaborative staffing models.

We highlight examples from Elev8, a community schools initiative in several locations across the country, to illustrate what effective partnerships look like in practice. We also provide a selected list of additional resources for those interested in learning more about partnerships for learning and the common challenges they have faced.

Free. Available online only.

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project