Students and their families are essential voices in the FCRCs: Their needs help determine which resources are offered, and they serve as advisors to staff and site coordinators. VPS relies on Parent and Family Leadership Advisory Groups, including representatives from each school with an FCRC, to guide site-based decisions. By district estimates, at least half of these parents are native Spanish speakers.
VPS conducts annual school-community needs assessments that determine priority areas of focus for the FCRCs based on input from families and school personnel, as well as published data about health, housing, food, education, and other services. They look at:
This process has evolved over 17 years with abundant input from the community.
FCRCs are not the superintendent’s vision or the school board’s vision. They are the community’s vision. The FCRC concept originated from strategic visioning and planning processes conducted by VPS over the past three decades, most recently in 2008 and 2013. During that time, the VPS board of directors and leadership team have committed to building community partnerships as a long-range strategic goal. This formalized commitment has given district staff the mandate and the resources necessary to plan and implement the FCRC initiative.
A strong commitment at the board and executive levels empowers school districts and their partners to make strategic investments into community schools despite limited resources and competing priorities. Constant communication and authentic engagement with stakeholders are essential to sustain and grow this commitment.
VPS established its own criteria for which schools would host FCRCs. Schools were prioritized first by their Title I status and then by the percentage of students qualified for free/reduced-price meals. The district created a “full service” FCRC and community school at one site in 2002 and began the expansion to other sites in 2008 based on stakeholder input into the strategic plan and community partner interest. The initiative grew to 18 school-based FCRCs and two mobile FCRCs.
The goals of the FCRC initiative were generally to improve the circumstances of students outside a school day to allow them to focus and achieve and grow in their academic setting. To operationalize this vision, VPS made its metrics of success visible to all. Key indicators have included the following:
Parent and community involvement:
Safe and supportive environments:
VPS makes hiring decisions and partner agreements based on their fit within the key indicators, which ultimately align with the district’s strategic plan.
Districts must consider the goals they are trying to achieve, who they need to bring in, and at what capacity. In some Vancouver schools, resources already were in place but were underutilized or not connected (e.g., school nurse, counselor, etc.). In other instances, skill sets and programs were needed and could be provided through partnerships or new hires.
VPS maintains strong partnerships with nonprofit organizations, faith-based communities, public agencies, businesses, and volunteer groups. The district also convenes the Strengthening Neighborhoods Coalition, a cross-sector group that meets quarterly to tap into the expertise and capacity of each organization to best facilitate access to resources.
The district also ensures its partners have students’ best interests in mind. When a food pantry partner began requiring government IDs for service, for example, VPS staff knew undocumented students and families no longer would feel safe at that organization. The district stood by its families and told the pantry they would stop referring all families if they continued to require IDs.
VPS funds FCRC personnel (first as a Title I-funded initiative and now through an operating levy). Across the districts’ FCRCs, the district employs a technical assistance coordinator, community outreach and engagement coordinators, family-community resource and engagement coordinators, mobile family-community resource and engagement coordinators, and a partnership coordinator.
The Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that raises money to support academic enrichment and achievement for VPS students—has aligned its fundraising efforts to support FCRCs. In marketing and outreach materials, the Foundation for VPS consistently mentions that it supports basic needs for students in the district to ensure they’re prepared for learning in school. The foundation has launched the silent phase of a major campaign, “Community Schools for a Brighter Vancouver,” to raise several million dollars to support FCRCs.
The mobile FCRCs were also an effort to grow the initiative in a sustainable way. Ideally, VPS would like to have an FCRC in every school. For now, the district operates two mobile FCRCs that serve schools that don’t have site-based centers.