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Critical Issue: Restructuring Schools to Support
School-Linked Services

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  ISSUE: Schools across the nation are establishing relationships with community service agencies in an effort to address the wide range of problems that students and families may face. By linking students and schools to integrated services, schools can serve as a hub for the delivery of services that complement and support education. Implementation of school-linked services, however, is a complex endeavor involving the development of collaborative partnerships connecting schools, service agencies, families, and the community. To support integrated service efforts and ensure successful results for students and families, schools must make many important changes as part of a comprehensive school restructuring effort.

OVERVIEW: Children's ability to learn in school is affected by many outside influences, such as poverty, family instability, parental unemployment, child abuse, teen pregnancy, truancy, and substance abuse. Because schools alone cannot overcome the effects of these influences, many schools are forming partnerships with community human-service agencies to meet the needs of their students. Through these partnerships, schools and service agencies can collaborate to provide supportive programs and services to students and possibly their families as well. Such school-linked integrated services, located at or near the school, provide an array of benefits to enable all students to learn and achieve to their fullest potential.

Yvonne ButcheeYvonne Butchee, program associate with the Center for School and Community Development at North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, describes school-linked integrated services and notes that schools are an appropriate place to link to such services. [599k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview with Yvonne Butchee (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1997). A text version is available.

A school's decision to provide school-linked services, however, will be successful only if it is part of a larger restructuring effort. Jehl and Kirst (1992) state:

"Just as there cannot be effective school restructuring without school-linked services, there cannot be effective school-linked services without school restructuring. The earlier practice--'adding on' social or health services without changing the way the school interacts with families and community agencies--will not work." (pp. 98-99)

The need to reexamine the types of interaction schools will have with the community, the roles that various stakeholders will assume, and the very goals the school will hold for its students becomes obvious when consideration is given to the variety of new services that schools may offer and the new types of activities that might occur. When a school restructures to make services available to its students and families, it makes basic changes in the way it operates. The school takes steps to reach out to the community and becomes a hub for providing services rather than trying to work alone. The school building is used by community agencies to provide easier access for clients and may remain open when school is not in session. The services provided by community agencies become an integral part of the educational opportunities that the school offers students, with educators and service providers working together instead of each group working in isolation. Administrators are active within the community and become catalysts for partnership development. Teachers are familiar with available services and are comfortable recommending them to students and families. Professional development time is used to help teachers learn about community services, the referral process, and practical applications for families; for example, teachers can learn what literacy programs are available for parents and how they can work with parents to improve learning opportunities for children. All in all, there is a sense that people are working together to address the needs of the whole child.

Underlying the described changes involved in school restructuring are: an expanded vision of service goals; collaboration in planning and implementation; changes in the roles of school administrators and staff, parents, and other stakeholders; professional development and support for teachers and other school staff; maximization of physical and financial resources; and program evaluation.

Expanded Vision of Service Goals. Although schools traditionally have supplemented students' education by providing social services such as health screenings, immunizations, and meals, implementation of school-linked services calls for an expanded vision of service goals. As part of this vision, schools consider the personal and social welfare of students as a requisite to meaningful, engaged learning. Schools acknowledge that children cannot effectively learn if they are hungry, ill, abused, or facing problems at home. Through partnerships with service agencies, schools aim to eliminate or reduce conditions and behaviors that impede a student's ability to learn, and to improve the quality of life for children and families.

Charles TerrettCharles Terrett, superintendent of Fulton County Schools in Hickman, Kentucky, notes that by focusing on the needs of families, school-linked services can improve the academic and personal outcomes of each child. [473k audio file] Excerpted from the video series Schools That Work: The Research Advantage, videoconference #8, Integrating Community Services (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1992). A text version is available.

The vision also goes a step farther. Instead of merely dealing with problems on a crisis basis, school-linked services focus on prevention and early intervention as well as positive youth development. A vision emphasizing youth development helps children and adolescents build competence, involvement, and connections to the larger community. To ensure that the focus is relevant to teenagers in particular, school-linked services should build upon elements of successful social support programs for adolescents.

The expanded vision of service goals also must ensure that school-linked services are locally defined and driven by the complex needs of children, youth, and families in the community. Effective collaboration between schools and social services is based on the viewpoint that children's needs are inseparable from the needs of the family and the community. The services offered must be services that families need. To ensure that the needs of students and families are being addressed, student and family representatives should participate in the development of the vision. After determining an expanded vision of service goals, schools and communities are ready to collaborate in the planning and implementation of the school-linked services.

Collaboration in Planning and Implementation. Programs of school-linked services fall along a "continuum of complexity" ranging from single targeted services (such as tutoring provided by a business or organization) to cooperative partnerships (in which agencies provide a number of on-site services, such as counseling or a school-based clinic) to collaboratives (in which "school systems and community agencies redefine their responsibilities, share decision making, and jointly develop a new institution"), notes Dryfoos (1994, p. 140), At the most sophisticated stage, schools are restructured into full-service schools (Dryfoos, 1994) or community schools (Decker & Boo, 1996) that serve as resources for the entire community.

Regardless of the type of school-linked program desired, school restructuring emphasizes various levels of collaboration among stakeholders. Typically, a collaborative team comprising school leaders, teacher representatives, a school site coordinator, leaders or representatives from various service agencies, student and parent representatives, and community members is convened to develop and implement school-linked services. This team is responsible for all aspects of the service initiative: conducting a needs assessment for school-linked services, creating a vision, defining the focus of the initiative, determining financial resources and funding strategies, involving specific service agencies, allocating human resources, integrating paperwork, coordinating information systems, creating policies for eligibility and confidentiality, publicizing the available services, obtaining technical assistance, and evaluating the entire program of school-linked services.

Charles TerrettCharles Terrett, superintendent of Fulton County Schools in Hickman, Kentucky, describes how representatives from schools and various service agencies meet for planning and collaborating of integrated services. [536k audio file] Excerpted from the video series Schools That Work: The Research Advantage, videoconference #8, Integrating Community Services (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1992). A text version is available.

Schools should not limit the roles of parents, families, and community members to representation on the collaborative team; instead, schools need to develop trusting relationships by building upon the ways that families support their own members and interact with others in the community. Because the most effective service programs view children in the context of their family and community rather than as isolated individuals (U.S. Department of Education & Regional Educational Laboratory Network, 1996), school-linked services should utilize the social capital of the family and community.

Gordon KarimGordon Karim, program associate with the Center for School and Community Development at North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, discusses the importance of social capital. [639k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview with Gordon Karim (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1997). A text version is available.

To ensure that school-linked services emphasize the family and the local community, the collaborative team can focus on a checklist of questions to help make service delivery choices for a profamily system.

Changes in Stakeholder Roles. Making school-linked services an integral part of the schooling process requires new roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders--administrators and the school board, principals, teachers, other school staff, parents and families, and students. Changes must occur at every level for school-linked service efforts to be successful. Jehl and Kirst (1992) state, "An important element of restructuring is the re-examination of traditional staff assignments, roles, and relationships within schools. When resources of other agencies are included, they must be integrated into the total structure" (p. 99).

The superintendent and board of education must be involved at the beginning of any initiative to establish school-linked services. Their promotion of school restructuring and their support for collaboration with service agencies are essential for successful integration of services at or near the school. If the integrated services initiative is a district effort, the superintendent is influential in establishing the collaborative team that develops and implements it. The school board is responsible for determining policies regarding the provision of services at or near school property.

The role of the principal changes to include new responsibilities; this role is vital because the principal serves as the link between school staff and key community partners. Besides establishing collaboratives and partnerships with community agencies and service providers, the principal is responsible for developing policies that relate to the use of the school building, garnering necessary resources, and supervising other staff from service agencies. The principal also devises strategies to create more time for teachers, enabling teachers to participate in professional development and collaboration efforts with service providers.

Teachers are instrumental in identifying students who may need services, sharing information with service providers, and ensuring delivery of services (Burnett, 1994). In fact, Lindle (1996) designates teachers as the most important link in integrated service efforts because of their unique relationships and daily contact with students. As an extension of their role as facilitators of learning, teachers collaborate with service providers in an effort to meet the needs of students and help students achieve to their fullest potential. Although teachers traditionally have demonstrated personal concern for students, this role takes on greater importance. Bucci and Reitzammer (1992) note:

"Although the primary responsibility of the teacher will be the academic development of the students, greater attention will go to the health and social factors that affect student learning. The teacher will need to develop a greater understanding of the variety of services that are available to address the health and social service needs of the child. The teacher will become part of a team of professionals working to help children to become successful and contributing members of society." (p. 292)

School psychologists, nurses, and social workers will see their roles change as they collaborate with service agencies in the community. In some schools, these staff may have increased responsibilities as case managers and collaborators; in other schools, these staff may experience reduced duties when service providers become involved. Changes in staffing may result when human resources are reallocated or repositioned within the school.

Teachers as well as supporting staff must be actively involved in every step of the collaborative process: understanding and assessing the need for a school-linked service effort, internalizing the philosophy and premise of the effort, and preparing to establish new working relationships with service providers as well as with other staff members (Jehl & Kirst, 1992). Challenges for school staff include accepting input and help from service professionals, adapting teaching strategies to meet the needs of children in dire situations, and viewing isolated incidents of behavior in light of the whole child and in the context of the child's family. Collaboration efforts may begin with administrators, but the people in direct contact with students will determine the success of the effort.

The roles of parents and family members also will expand as they are called upon to help identify community needs, take action on their concerns, contribute to policies affecting their families, collaborate with service providers to improve outcomes for students, serve as volunteers within the program, and participate in evaluation efforts. In return, parents receive many benefits from school-linked services: medical care, family counseling, parenting education, advocacy and referral, and a sense of being contributors and decision makers in their children's education.

Student involvement also is crucial to the success of school-linked services. Students' roles will change as they participate in needs assessment and help define the goals of the services. To be effective, the services provided through the school should be driven by the needs of youth.

Professional Development and Support. School staff will feel more comfortable with changes in their roles and responsibilities if they are provided with the professional development and support they need for building relationships between schools and social services. Teachers often are aware that students are facing personal difficulties outside the classroom, but they may lack knowledge of how to help such students or may feel uncomfortable intervening. To enable teachers to assist these students, professional development can focus on strategies to increase teachers' knowledge of human services and extend teachers' knowledge of collaboration and referral skills.

Professional development also should address strategies for identifying students and families who need services and for dealing with confidentiality issues. Schools can support school-linked service efforts by creating a school climate and culture that enable school staff to take on a greater role in fostering students' personal growth. Part of this effort is providing time for staff to learn about specific social services available in their community.

Joint meetings of school staff and service providers can enable both groups to explore barriers that impede student learning, identify mutual goals, and define their respective roles in fostering student learning and development. Such meetings also can include some cross-training, in which teachers learn the work of various service professionals and vice versa. Golan and Williamson (1994) suggest that teachers should participate in such training to enable them to interact effectively with student, families, and community service agencies. To encourage parent and family involvement, educators and service providers can develop strategies for engaging families and communities in social service efforts.

Maximization of Physical and Financial Resources. One of the major changes schools undergo when restructuring to support integrated services is the need to share and maximize their physical and financial resources with social service agencies. By pooling their resources and choosing the most effective options, schools and service agencies can increase benefits for students and families.

To maximize physical resources, school administrators and the collaborative team can determine the most appropriate setting for providing school-linked services: either on-site on school property or off-site at a separate location. On-site services can be housed in unused classrooms, administrative offices, or portable classrooms and trailers on school property. Off-site services can be located in a neutral, community setting that is easily accessible by the community. Either location has its own advantages. An on-site location typically is convenient for students and families. An off-site location promotes confidentiality and professionalism and also encourages the participation of students and families who may feel uncomfortable in the school setting (Chaskin & Richman, 1992). Factors such as trust, accessibility, availability, and state regulations must be considered when asking the question should services for children and families be located at a school? If school administrators and the collaborative team decide upon allocating space at a school for on-site services, they must address issues of security, maintenance, and hours of access.

School administrators and other members of the collaborative team also will need to ensure adequate funding for all services. To maximize financial resources for school-linked services, the collaborative team can use funds from state and federal governments, grants from foundations and corporations, reallocations of school and city budgets, contributions from local businesses and individual donors, joint funding with community agencies, and fees paid by program participants (Decker & Boo, 1996). The team may wish to take advantage of major funding sources for school-linked services. Financing strategies can consist of establishing new funding for a core program, redirecting existing funds, and maximizing federal funding sources such as Medicaid (Farrow & Joe, 1992). Corporate and foundation grants are helpful in starting up initiatives. Such grants, however, often are distributed on a one-time basis and should be replaced by long-term funding commitments (Gardner, 1992). Librarians can help point collaboratives toward granting entities. According to Colvin and Smith (1996), some funding agencies insist on the involvement of the community in planning integrated services and the involvement of the family in developing and evaluating treatment strategies.

Program Evaluation. Evaluating outcomes to measure whether goals have been met is an important part of restructuring schools to support school-linked services. As part of this effort, schools need to provide human resources, time, and equipment for evaluation. Outcomes "must be monitored consistently and on a long-term basis, involving information feedback with the collaborative agencies to address unmet needs," note Kirst and Kelley (1995). "This often requires schools to adopt new procedures and secure new equipment to collect relevant data" (pp. 41-42).

Evaluation of school-linked programs is useful in validating the effectiveness of services, improving implementation of services, and ensuring improved outcomes for students and families. Five types of student outcomes commonly are evaluated: attendance, academic achievement, self-esteem, incidence of behavior problems, and dropout rates (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1995). Process evaluation monitors program implementation and changes in the way agencies interact, while outcome evaluation documents changes in students' academic performance and social behavior. Because evaluation is a complicated process, educators should be aware of difficulties in evaluating school-linked programs.

Restructuring schools to support school-linked services is a complex endeavor that relies on administrative support, teacher participation, parent and family involvement, and service agency collaboration, as well as adequate funding, space allocation, professional development, and evaluation. Noting that currently "the school-linked services movement ... is on the fringes of the educational restructuring movement," Kirst and Kelley (1995) specify that "school-linked services, however, need to be viewed as an essential rather than peripheral part of school restructuring if they are to derive substantial political support from large education interest groups like teachers and administrators" (p. 34). By changing the way that schools function both internally and within the community, schools can promote the well-being of students and remove barriers to academic achievement. The academic and social outcomes of children and families are more likely to improve if the provision of school-linked integrated services is supported by restructuring the ways that schools operate.


  ACTION OPTIONS: The superintendent and school board, principal, school staff, collaborative team, and parents and families can take the following steps to support school-linked integrated services:

Superintendent and School Board:


School Staff (including teachers, counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and library media specialists):

Collaborative Team (comprising school leaders, teacher representatives, a school-site coordinator, leaders or representatives from various service agencies, parents, and students as appropriate):

Parents and Families:

  IMPLEMENTATION PITFALLS: Some educators and school staff may be reluctant to take on new responsibilities associated with school-linked services. They may fail to see the positive impact on academic learning from addressing the personal issues and needs of students and their families. They also may feel threatened by the addition of new programs and outside personnel at the school (Hoover & Achilles, 1996; Cohen, 1995).

Melaville, Blank, and Asayesh (1993) note that teachers may have many questions and concerns about their new roles in school-linked services:

"Teachers who want to know how interagency efforts will relate to instruction and student learning also may want to know how much this new activity will interfere with their jobs or require additional time for them. Questions about how agency staff will work with children and families may mask anxiety about how these changes will affect teachers' professional authority and relationships with their students. In an effective prototype, supervisors will anticipate these concerns and help staff keep them in perspective." (p. 70)

School nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists may voice confusion and concern over their new responsibilities and placement within school-linked services (Dryfoos, 1994). These school staff members may "feel bypassed when their counterparts are brought into schools by outside organizations" (Dryfoos, 1994, p. 155). To help school staff become comfortable with their new roles, effective professional development and participation in the planning and implementation stages are essential.

Teachers and other key staff may lack support for the school-linked service effort if they are not involved from the beginning. There are documented benefits to actively engaging and involving teachers in the design and implementation efforts of school-linked service programs. Golan and Williamson (1994) conducted a study of 462 teachers in school-linked service efforts in 77 California schools and concluded:

"When teachers became involved in school-linked services (that is, when their job changed to support the meeting of students' noneducational needs), they had more contact with parents and service agency staff, felt more efficacious concerning their own abilities to help students, and perceived greater involvement in and effectiveness of program services." (p. 7)

Gardner (1992) adds that the early involvement of teachers, though time consuming, saves time in the long run: "Workers who are in on the early stages of planning are able to identify problems that will arise later, in implementation. Once such problems are identified, the team can jointly develop alternative responses in the planning stage, rather than after implementation has begun." (p. 93)

Broad policies driving the educational system may be a deterrent to school restructuring in support of school-linked services. Some school leaders and boards of education are more concerned about students' test scores than about students' personal growth and behavior. They may approve of add-on service programs that don't interfere with an academic focus but are unwilling to devote energy to collaborating with service agencies and the community. Ironically, they may not realize that meeting student's health, social, and emotional needs is influential in improving students' academic performance.

When schools and different agencies are jointly responsible for the well-being of children and families, lines of authority and responsibilities may be difficult to structure (Kraemer, 1993). Sometimes a project is so large and complex that it appears no one is in charge. Other times the problematic aspect of a project might be the lack of a midlevel structure, in which a principal is clearly in charge of a project but leaves the operational details to the school staff. Clarifying up front the specific roles and responsibilities of each staff person can alleviate many misconceptions and ill feelings.

Kraemer (1993) notes that when staff from schools and various professional organizations work together, differing philosophies and approaches can prohibit collaboration. Bureaucratic rules and procedures may need to be adjusted. As a result, some staff and organizations may feel their roles and jurisdiction undercut and threatened. They may worry that they will lose their autonomy or have to give up their own philosophical approaches to treatment. Parents and members of the community who participate on the collaborative team may feel that there are unequal power relations. Working together means sharing control and accountability, and this kind of collaboration often is a radically different way of working.

Lack of communication during the planning and implementation stages of school-linked service efforts may lead to disillusionment of staff members and continued fragmentation of services. Kraemer (1993) notes:

"Maintaining effective and ongoing communication between partners is a real challenge. Collaborations that maintain a participatory and open planning process sometimes neglect to institute mechanisms for continuing communication and information sharing once the project begins. This is a formula for disenchantment of staff and workers and a refragmentation of services. It also often leads to one organization bearing the burden of the project whether by default or because it is the only organization that communicates with everyone else." (p. 39)

Some strategies to ensure that communication is built into the process include: designating one person to coordinate and monitor the collaboration, designating contact people at each partner organization, issuing periodic updates, and scheduling regular informational and problem-solving meetings (Kraemer, 1993).

Obtaining and maintaining adequate funding for school-linked services may be a challenge for school administrators and the collaborative team. Because many school administrators have little knowledge of funding requirements and strategies for children's protective services and health (Kirst, 1993), additional time and effort may be necessary to locate and obtain funds. Even then, collaborative projects often are at risk of funding cutbacks because they are considered as "extras" or experimental (Kraemer, 1993). Kirst (1993) suggests that school-linked services should use federal, state, and local monies that already are being spent on children's services and adds that specialized funds should be shifted into more inclusive services.

  DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Some critics argue that requiring teachers to become involved in school-linked services will divert their attention from their primary objective of teaching (Koppich & Kirst, 1993; Bruner, 1994; Dryfoos, 1994). They claim that teachers have neither the time nor the inclination to take on additional responsibilities for students' social, emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

Bolland (1996), for example, notes that middle- and high-school teachers who see students for only 50 minutes each day are not likely to be able to recognize students' personal problems. She adds that teachers have neither the time nor the professional training to identify, document, and make referrals for children in need of services. Instead, she suggests that school social workers should have these responsibilities and should be allocated more resources to enable them to carry out their professional duties.


Family Resource Schools, Denver, Colorado - These seven schools emphasized the role of the principal in restructuring and providing leadership for school-linked services.

New Beginnings Center for Children and Families, San Diego, California - Middle-level school district administrators were influential in connecting an elementary school with government, health, and social services.

Beacon School-Based Community Centers, New York, New York - Through restructuring, school buildings were converted into active community centers for use when school is not in session.

Healthy Start School-Linked Services Initiative, California Department of Education - Grants from the California Department of Education enabled schools to develop collaborative partnerships and offer integrated services to students and families.

Milwaukee Early Schooling Initiative, Milwaukee, Wisconsin - A program for young children connected an early childhood program with community services for children and families.

Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, Kentucky Department of Education - Education-reform legislation financed the restructuring of elementary and secondary schools into community service centers.

Integrated Services Partnership and Multifocus Partnership - The successes and failures of two comprehensive school-linked service efforts demonstrate the importance of school restructuring to support integrated services.

Hand in Hand: How Nine Urban Schools Work with Families and Community Services - This document describes strategies used by schools to develop connections with families and services.

Exemplary programs of school-linked comprehensive services

Organizations and districts that have successfully developed school-linked, integrated services


Annie E. Casey Foundation
701 Paul St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 547-6600; fax (410) 547-6624
Contact: Douglas W. Nelson, Executive Director

Center for the Study of Social Policy
1250 Eye St. N.W., Suite 503
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 371-1565; fax (202) 371-1472
Contact: Sara Watson
E-mail: swatson400@aolcom

Center on Families, Communities, Schools, and Children's Learning
Johns Hopkins University
3505 N. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21218
(410) 516-8800; fax (410) 516-8890
Contact: Joyce L. Epstein, Codirector

Child and Family Policy Center
218 Sixth Ave., Suite 1021
Des Moines, IA 50309-4006
(515) 280-9027; fax (515) 244-8997
Contact: Vivian Hardenbrook, Office Manager
E-mail: or

Communities In Schools (CIS)
1199 N. Fairfax St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 519-8999
Contact: Neil Shorthouse
or Linda Harrill

Institute for Educational Leadership
1001 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 811-8405; fax (202) 870-4050
Contact: Mary Marshall

National Center for Children in Poverty
Columbia University School of Public Health
154 Haven Ave.
New York, NY 10032
(212) 304-7100; fax (212) 544-4200
Contact: Carole Osinsky or Beth Atkins

National Center for Education in the Inner Cities
Temple University
933 Ritter Hall Annex
13th Street and Cecil B. Moore Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19122
(215) 204-3001; fax (215) 204-5130
Contact: Margaret C. Wang

National Center for Service Integration
c/o Child and Family Policy Center
218 Sixth Ave., Suite 1021
Des Moines, IA 50309-4006
(515) 280-9027; fax (515) 244-8997
Contact: Charles Bruner, Director
E-mail: or

School Mental Health Project
Center for Mental Health in Schools
Department of Psychology
University of California
405 Hilgard Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563
(310) 825-1225 or (310) 825-3634; fax (310) 206-8716
Contact: Howard Adelman or Linda Taylor, Codirectors


This Critical Issue summary was written by Robin Fleming and Stephanie Lubin, program specialists with the Center for School and Community Development at North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

Date posted: 1998
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