Communities In Schools

Communities In Schools

The Communities In Schools (CIS) network is a federation of independent 501(c)(3) organizations in 27 states and the District of Columbia that work to address the dropout epidemic. The organization identifies and mobilizes existing community resources and fosters cooperative partnerships for the benefit of students and their families. On the local level, Communities In Schools serves as a bridge between schools and businesses, faith groups, and other nonprofit agencies, identifying and mobilizing local resources to provide a range of services such as: mentoring, tutoring, health care, summer and after-school programs, family counseling, and service learning. Communities In Schools, founded in 1977, has become one of the largest dropout prevention organizations in the United States and one the largest promoters of community-based, integrated student support services. Its mission is to champion the connection of needed community resources with schools to help young people successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life.[1]



The Early Years

In the 1960s, on the streets of New York City, youth worker Bill Milliken and his colleagues launched a series of nontraditional “street academies,” with backing from major corporations like Union Carbide and American Express. Young people who had already dropped out of school were able to return, complete their education and, in most cases, go on to college. In the late sixties Bill Milliken gained involvement with the White House. One of the Corporate donors to his New York academies, Red Blount, became Postmaster General and assisted in the establishment of the Postal Street Academy. There were six cities with three locations (Academies A,B and the School of Transition. Those cities were: Washington, D.C., Newark, N.J., Chicago, IL, Detroit, MI, San Francisco, CA, and Atlanta, GA. Milliken then founded the Institutional Development Corporation which was the parent of Cities In Schools. (Washington, DC, Houston, TX. Oakland, CA. Atlanta, GA, and Minneapolis,NM were the first to open In 1977, Milliken and his colleagues decided to work inside the school system, and Communities In Schools (then called Cities In Schools) was born. The idea was to develop a safety net so underserved youth could get the assistance they needed to stay in school. The CIS founders realized that troubled young people and their families had difficulty negotiating their way through a maze of public and private services, all located in different places and following different rules. They decided to bring these community resources inside a public school building, where they are accessible, coordinated and accountable.

The fledgling organization started out strong, as newly elected President Jimmy Carter, a supporter of the CIS prototype during his term as Georgia governor, identified federal funds to support CIS’ expansion. Soon CIS was serving nearly 3,000 students in three cities: Atlanta, Indianapolis and New York.

Changes Along the Way

Between 1977 and 1983, local CIS efforts were funded by the CIS national organization. As the CIS continued to expand, it became clear that true community-building required local ownership and funding sources. Each community needed to assess its own problems and strengths and craft individual solutions. Thus, from then on, it was determined that every CIS affiliate would be independently incorporated, with the CIS national office providing training, support and the basic model.

CIS’ cost-effective method of rallying the community to deliver existing services at the school site became a model for school-community collaboration. Every presidential administration since the Carter administration in 1977 has provided support to CIS – including the innovative, 10-year “Partnership Plan” among the departments of Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education that began in 1985.

Coming of Age

By the mid-1990s, it was clear that the CIS model was gaining in support and recognition. In response to its expansion and to acknowledge its commitment to creating community, Cities In Schools changed its name to Communities In Schools in 1996.

Today Communities In Schools is widely known as the pioneer of the “community school” concept – a vision of schools as vital centers for the entire community, and a delivery point for services and resources that would otherwise be scattered far and wide, uncoordinated and unaccountable. Worth Magazine named Communities In Schools one of the “Top 100 Nonprofits Most Likely to Save the World” in both 2001 and 2002. Worth’s criteria for selection (out of a field of 819,000 registered U.S. charities) were “skill, innovation, effectiveness and strategic insight.”[2]

In 2004, Communities In Schools underwent an evolution in its executive leadership. After more than 25 years as operational leader of the organization, Communities In Schools founder Bill Milliken transitioned to a new role as vice chairman to the national board of directors, allowing him to focus full-time on developing individual donors. Daniel J. Cardinali assumed the position of national president.

In March 2005, Communities In Schools launched Choose Success, a three-year public awareness campaign designed to draw attention to the dropout crisis in America and to raise the visibility of Communities In Schools nationwide.[3]

Dropout Epidemic

Dropout Statistics

  • One million American students drop out of school each year
  • Nearly half of all dropouts ages 16-24 are unemployed
  • An estimated 67% of prison inmates are high school dropouts
  • Graduation rate nationally is around 70%, declining to 50% in some urban areas[4]
  • Every 29 seconds another student gives up on school
  • dropouts earn $9,200 less per year than high schools graduates and more than $1 million less over a lifetime than college graduates
  • the government would gain $45 billion in extra tax revenues and reduced costs in public health, rime, and welfare payments if the number of high school dropouts among 20-year-olds in the US today were cut in half[5]


Communities In Schools believes that caring, one-on-one relationships between adults and young people make the crucial difference. Their philosophy is based on the notion that programs don’t change kids – relationships do. In order to help kids, Communities In Schools identified and developed the Five Basics as guiding principles. The Five Basics grew out the organization’s collective experience during the first two decades of its existence. Communities In Schools sees each basic as critical to keeping kids in school and helping them prepare for life.[6]

First Basic - A one-on-one relationship with a caring adult

This first basic is a response to the breakdown of traditional communities and family structures of the past. Communities In Schools believes that due to the breakdown of these traditional support systems children are not receiving the support and building strong relationships with caring adults that children of past generations have received.[7] A caring adult is defined as someone who serves as a guide, a mentor and a role model for young people.[8] CIS believes that the loss of such a relationship with a caring adult will greatly impede a child’s chance for success in school and in life.

  • One-third of teenagers (more than 8 million) and one-fifth of younger children ( around 5 million) are reported to not have high-quality relationships with their parents [9]

Second Basic - A safe place to learn and grow

The second basic is also a response to the breakdown of traditional communities, and the loss of a safe environment within schools and communities. Communities In Schools feels that many communities and schools are not secure and safe; instead violence, drugs, gangs, unemployment and multigenerational poverty are sometimes commonplace in communities across the nation.[7] CIS believes that each child deserves a safe place to learn and grow. A safe place is seen by CIS as a place with constructive activities that gives youth an alternative to street corners, gangs and other harmful environments. According to CIS a safe place will nurture young people's skills and interests, enrich their academic performance and give them opportunities to contribute to their communities.[8]

  • Between one-forth and one-third of all young people “never” or only “sometimes” feel safe at school and in their communities[9]

Third Basic - A healthy start and a healthy future

Communities In Schools believes that a child’s ability to succeed is impeded when they are not receiving the correct health care. CIS believes that children need a healthy start before they begin schooling – prenatal care and early immunizations are vital in a child's first years of life; and that children and adolescents also need accessible and affordable healthcare, including good nutrition; eye, ear and dental checkups; and regular exercise throughout their formative years.[8]

  • Thirty-four percent of teenagers (nearly 8.5 million) do not have health insurance coupled with annual check-ups with a doctor and a dentist. Twenty-three percent of younger children (nearly 5.75 million) fall into this category also.[9]

Fourth Basic - A marketable skill to use upon graduation

Communities In Schools recognizes that the American economy has shifted from an industrial-based model to a service-based model. In order for children to be successful, CIS believes that each child should be prepared to work within this new American economy.[7] Marketable skills enable young people to prepare for employment in the 21st century. In order for young people to succeed in the American economy, CIS believes they will need to master basic academic and analytical skills, learn workplace etiquette and know how to use new technology, such as computers and the Internet before graduating and entering the market.[8]

  • More than 40% of parents of younger children and 66% of adolescents say their schools do not emphasize academic achievement[9]

Fifth Basic - A chance to give back to peers and community

Communities In Schools believes that community service not only benefits society, it also enriches the lives of people who provide it. Young volunteers have higher self-esteem, perform better in school, build leadership skills and learn how to solve community problems.[8] CIS believes that the community must create environments for young people in which everyone’s gifts are nurtured, and service to others is expected and rewarded.

  • Half of 6 to 17 year olds experience the civic roles and connections that enable them to make a difference in their communities[9]

The Network

The Communities In Schools network comprises a national office located in Alexandria, Va., 14 state offices and nearly 200 local affiliates. Each CIS office is an independent 501(c) (3) organization, and, at the local level, brokers or provides services that are tailored to the specific needs of the community

National Office

The Communities In Schools national office increases public outreach and visibility for the organization; seeks legislative support and procures funding for national, state and local efforts to benefit students and families; support state offices in capacity-building efforts; leads network evaluation activities to identify and promote best practices; and ensures the continuation of the Communities In Schools “movement.”

State Office

Working closely with the national office staff, Communities In Schools state office leaders spearhead CIS “movement” in their states, providing training, technical assistance and capacity building. State offices support and help procure funding for local affiliates who work directly with kids.

Local Affiliates

At the local or “grassroots” level, Communities In Schools affiliates always work at the invitation of the school superintendent, and in partnership with public schools. CIS local affiliates collaborate with volunteers and community partners to work directly with students, providing programs and services which address the unique needs of a school district or student population.[10]

The Model

Communities In Schools seeks to understand and address the underlying reasons why young people drop out. Whether kids need eyeglasses, tutoring, nutritious food or just a safe place to be, CIS works to find the resources and deliver them to young people right inside schools where kids spend their days. The need could be something as simple as getting kids vaccinated to meet school attendance requirements. Or the need could be something more complex. Like helping young people find positive alternatives to joining gangs.[11]

CIS implements a community-based integrated student services strategy, leveraging community resources where they are most needed—in schools. Community-based integrated student services are interventions that improve student achievement by connecting community resources with both the academic and social-service needs of students. Such interventions focus programmatic energy, resources and time on shared school and student goals. Through the efforts of a single point of contact, individual student needs are assessed and research-based connections made between students and targeted community resources.[12] Asset building resources such as health screenings, food and clothing, and assemblies on various topics are made available to all students. Targeted and sustained intervention services are provided to the subset of students most in need, forming the basis of outcome-driven individual student plans. These students benefit from tutors, mentors, after-school programs, academic support and other evidence-based interventions designed to achieve specific outcomes.

Communities In Schools becomes involved at the invitation of the school or school district. The CIS model is adaptable to all communities— whether urban, rural or suburban— and is tailored to meet the needs of the individual school and its students. The National Evaluation of Communities In Schools is being conducted to measure the impact and the effectiveness of the Communities In Schools model. The core elements of the CIS model identified within the study and being measured are the following:

  • The presence of a CIS school-based, on-site coordinator;
  • A comprehensive school- and student-level needs assessment;
  • A community asset assessment and identification of potential partners;
  • Annual plans for school-level prevention and individual intervention strategies;
  • The delivery of appropriate combinations of widely accessible prevention services and resources for the entire school population, coupled with coordinated, targeted and sustained intervention services and resources for individual students with significant risk factors; and
  • Data collection and evaluation over time, with monitoring and modifications of services offered to individual students and/or the entire school population, as appropriate.[13]

Provided Services

Communities In Schools identifies and delivers two levels of service to students. These services are designed to address the underlying risk factors for dropping out of school.

Level One - Widely Accessible Services These are resources and services that are widely accessible to any students at a CIS school site. They are short-term interventions with durations of a few hours or days that build assets in the “Five Basics.” They are provided or brokered on an as-needed or as-available basis. Students do not need to be enrolled in a specific CIS initiative to benefit from such resources and services, but simply need to be members of the school population at large. Some examples of Level One resources or services include providing clothing or school supplies, assemblies, events, career fairs, field trips, health screenings and grief counseling.

Level Two- Targeted and Sustained Services Unlike Level one, from which virtually any student in a school may benefit, Level Two resources and services are provided through well-defined CIS initiatives targeted at students and/or families with specific needs. These initiatives typically include some type of enrollment or assignment procedure. They are sustained interventions with durations of several weeks, months or an entire school year. Level Two services are usually designed to achieve one or more tracked outcomes such as improved academic performance, attendance or behavior. These outcomes are chosen based on a variety of assessments and teacher recommendations. Examples of such interventions include tutoring, mentoring, literary skills, case management, individual counseling, before- and after-school programs, community service and enrollment in an “academy” environment.[14]

Network Statistics

  • CIS serves more than 3,250 schools and education sites
  • More than 2.3 million students have access to CIS services and attend schools in which CIS has a presence
  • Nearly 1.2 million students are directly served by CIS
  • More than 3 million hours of service are contributed by the network’s nearly 53,000 volunteers – a dollar value of $59,623,711
  • 96% of local CIS affiliates provide mentoring and tutoring services
  • 94% of local CIS affiliates provide after-school/before-school programs
  • Around 16,000 community partners are providing services throughout the CIS network
  • The average annual cost per student is $180
  • 78% of CIS students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches
  • CIS paid staff comprise only 5 percent of the human resources dedicated to the CIS mission
  • There are 194 CIS operational affiliates that serving schools in 27 states and The District of Columbia[14]

Performance Learning Centers

Performance Learning Centers are academically rigorous, college preparatory high schools for students who have not been successful in a traditional high school environment. Through a self-paced curriculum, students who may have fallen behind in credits due to absenteeism, academic struggles or disengagement from school are often able to catch up and graduate on time, prepare for college, a career and life. Performance Learning Centers create a challenging, business-like environment that emphasizes real world interaction and project based learning, problem solving and communication skills. Team work and independence are balanced with a rigorous high tech/hands-on curriculum that allows each student to progress at their own pace.

The Performance Learning Center concept was developed by Communities in Schools of Georgia, and the first Performance Learning Center began serving students during the 2002-2003 school year. A partnership between local school districts and Communities In Schools, today there are more than 30 operational Performance Learning Centers in the Communities In Schools network.


  • Schools are small, averaging only 75-150 students, which helps to exemplify a positive school climate and provide a low student/teacher ratio increasing one-on-one attention
  • Strong Student/Adult Relationships are enhanced through small class size, mentoring, team building and job shadowing
  • Dual Enrollment with technical and two and four-year colleges to encourage successful career/college transitions
  • Project-based and Service Learning combine knowledge, critical thinking and collaboration with actual hands on activities that strengthen the community
  • Services Coordinators are available at every site to help students with non-academic issues that could be affecting their ability to reach their full potential[11]

National Evaluation


In 2005 Communities In Schools was awarded a multiyear contract to conduct an evaluation of its national network and programming.[15] ICF International, a global consulting and research firm, was contracted to conduct the five year longitudinal study titled the National Evaluation of Communities In Schools. The study was designed to determine the effectiveness of the Communities In Schools model. It is based on an in-depth analysis of 1,776 schools served by CIS, a comparative analysis of outcomes from more than 1,200 CIS served and non-CIS served comparison schools, and comparative analysis of CIS served students and non-CIS served students alongside in-depth case studies of students. The study is being conducted in three phases:

Phase One: Implementation Study The first year of the National Evaluation focused on collecting detailed information on the work of Communities In Schools in schools, providing a comprehensive picture of how the CIS model is implemented in thousands of schools across the country.

Phase Two: School-Level Results Studies The second and third years of the National Evaluation have focused on determining the difference Communities In Schools makes at the school-level allowing for conclusions to be formed with respect to the correlation between effective implementation of the CIS model and school level results.

Phase Three: Student-Level Results Studies The fourth and fifth years of the National Evaluation consist of randomized control trials, comparing CIS served students and non-CIS served students in the same schools.[13] ICF will conduct experimental studies involving the random assignment of students to a treatment group or a control group. Through random assignment, researches are able to make the two groups as similar in composition as possible. By minimizing differences between the two groups, any difference in outcomes can be attributed to participation in the CIS program.


Phase One: Implementation Results The first phase involved a survey of more than 1,500 schools served by Communities In Schools to determine the level of CIS implementation taking place at each school. Based on the survey results, the schools were given a score from 1-100, based on their degree of fidelity to core components of the CIS model. When scores were correlated with school-level outcomes, the cohort of sites scoring 70 or higher showed the most positive outcomes. This established the relationship between outcomes and the level of implementation of the CIS model. The group, referred to as “high implementing schools,” represents 47 percent (710) of total sample sites. The remaining 808 sites, referred to as “partial implementing schools,” implemented the CIS model to a lesser degree.

Phase Two: School-Level Studies Results In the second phase, ICF sought to determine the extent to which positive student outcomes could be attributed to implementation of the Communities In Schools model. ICF conducted a quasi-experimental evaluation, matching 602 schools served by CIS against 602 comparison schools. Each school served by CIS was matched with a school not served by CIS based on eight characteristics of the schools: student attendance rates; percent of students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch; percent of students with special needs; school size; percentage of students designated as proficient in math; percentage of students designated as proficient in English/language arts; the racial and ethnic composition of the schools; and the “promoting power” of the schools ( a proxy for “dropout rate”). In 2008, ICF along with Communities In Schools released the initial results from Phase Two. The three key findings were:

  1. Among dropout prevention programs using scientifically based evidence, the CIS model is one of a very few in the United States proven to keep students in school and is the only dropout prevention program in the nation with scientifically based evidence to prove that it increases graduation rates.
  2. When implemented with high fidelity, the CIS model results in a higher percentage of students reaching proficiency in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math.
  3. Effective implementation of the CIS model correlates more strongly with positive school-level outcomes (i.e., dropout and graduation rates, achievement, etc.) than does the uncoordinated provision of service alone, resulting in notable improvements of school level outcomes in the context of the CIS model.[13]

Phase Three: Student-Level Studies Results As of 2007, randomized controlled trials are being conducted in CIS of Central Texas in Austin, Texas and in CIS of Jacksonville, Florida. Initial results from these studies are expected in 2009, with final results expected at the completion of the three-year period in 2010.[16]


  1. ^ Maureen Salamat, ed. “2007 Annual Report: 30 years of Keeping Kids In Schools,” Communities In Schools National Office, p.1. Found at:
  2. ^ Reshma Memon Yaqub, “America’s 100 Best Charities,” Worth Magazine, Nov. 30, 2002. Found at:
  3. ^ The History of Community in Schools” Communities in Schools National Office, Fact Sheet,
  4. ^ Jay Mathews, “Dropout-Prevention Program Sees to the Basics of Life,” Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2007; page B01.
  5. ^ “Statistics and Facts About High School Dropout Rates,” Ending the Silent Epidemic,
  6. ^ Note: The Five Basics have also been adopted by America’s Promise, an alliance working to solve the dropout crisis, which calls them the “Five Promises.” For more information see
  7. ^ a b c “Communities In Schools’ Formula for Success: ‘The Five Basics’,” Communities In Schools National Office, Fact Sheet,
  8. ^ a b c d e “The Five Promises”,America's Promise,
  9. ^ a b c d e "Every Child, Every Promise: Turning Failure Into Action", America’s Promise Alliance, 2007, p.12,
  10. ^ “Communities In Schools Marketing Brochure,” Communities In Schools National Office, p.6,
  11. ^ a b Greg Schaler, "Empowering Students for a Lifetime of Success: Performance Learning Centers," Communities in Schools National Office,2007: p.4
  12. ^ "A National Educational Imperative: Support for Community-Based, Integrated Student Services in the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act," Communities In Schools national Office, 2007: p.1
  13. ^ a b c "Communities In Schools and the Model of Integrated Student Services: A Proven Solution to America's Dropout Epidemic," Communities In Schools National Office, 2008, p.3-7,
  14. ^ a b "2006-2007 Network Results," Communities In Schools National Office, p.16,
  15. ^ "Program Development, Management, and Evaluation Services to Foundations and Non-Profits," ICF International, p.2,
  16. ^ "National Evaluation: Student-Level Studies," Communities In Schools National Office,

Further reading

External links

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