Community schools: Raleigh County, WV
- Addressing student health and wellbeing needs at school: School-based supports for child health and wellbeing help position students to be physically and emotionally ready to learn. Supports can include a wide range of medical services (including physicals, vaccinations, STI tests, and more); dental and vision care; therapy and other mental health services; and school-wide programming, including sexual health education, social-emotional instruction, and trauma-informed school reform.
- Delivering support services in a school setting: A core tenant of many evidence-based supports is that they are delivered by external partners at school, either in permanent offices (like a school-based health clinic) or temporarily (i.e. a mobile dentist’s office). Locating support services in schools addresses several major barriers. First, physical proximity to such services minimizes transportation and time costs. Second, many services are delivered for free, eliminating a financial barrier. Third, by integrating support services into school operations, student awareness is significantly increased, further raising the chances they will participate.
- Bringing the community into school: In many jurisdictions, community groups and residents play a major role in supporting student needs. This can include partnerships with schools for clothing drives, providing free holiday meals, and hosting recreational events. Meanwhile, some school-based services, like dentistry or vision care, may also be made available to the broader community. In some cases, a full-time community liaison is hired to identify and connect students and their families to key services that are available both in school and in the community and to manage partnerships with service providers.
- Taking a whole-school approach: While many supports are delivered directly and privately to students, some comprehensive approaches include school-wide reform and/or programming. For instance, community schools include setting school-wide goals and working with families and other partners to achieve them, like increased attendance; the trauma-informed school model, meanwhile, provides training to staff to better support students who have experienced trauma, and also is used to shape discipline policies and curricula. Some individual care models also include school-wide workshops or courses on a range of health and wellbeing issues, such as reproductive health, mental health, and social-emotional skills.
Multiple rigorous systematic reviews and research synthesis of various school-based supports for child health and wellbeing found strong evidence that the strategy is associated with significant improvements in health and academic outcomes.
A 2019 research synthesis of community schools, which integrate school-based supports for child health and wellbeing into school operations, can be associated with improved academic performance, increased attendance, and a reduction in risky behavior.
A 2015 systematic review of rigorous evaluations of school-based health centers found that they improved a range of academic outcomes, including higher grade point average and high school graduation rates, and health outcomes, like increased use of contraception and preventative medicine, and reduced consumption of tobacco and alcohol.
A 2019 systematic review of school-based cognitive behavioral therapy found robust evidence that the practice is associated with reductions in student anxiety and depression, especially when treatment is delivered by mental health professionals instead of school staff.
A 2017 research synthesis found that school dental programs can reduce instances of cavities for all students, especially among low-income students and students in rural areas.
Results and accomplishments
In the 2021-2022 school year, 9 site coordinators in 9 Raleigh County CIS schools provided case management to 292 students. 78 elementary school students, 45 middle school students, and 140 high school students were served.
In Raleigh County CIS schools focused on attendance, 36 percent of case managed students improved attendance rates (as of April 2022)
In Raleigh County CIS schools focused on student behavior, 57 percent of case managed students made progress towards behavior goals
In Raleigh County CIS schools focused on career readiness, 38 percent of case managed students improved their career readiness, completing all requirements and passing all certification tests for their chosen program.
In Raleigh County CIS schools focused on improving school climate, 84 percent of case managed students reported their social-emotional needs were being met and their school environment felt positive and
- Steady expansion across West Virginia: Raleigh, along with the 11 other CIS counties in West Virginia, has demonstrated the model’s impact through a strong commitment to ongoing data collection and evaluation. As a result of the model’s success in the first wave of implementing counties, the state now intends to expand into all 55 counties.
- Securing public investment from the State Legislature: After a successful pilot in three counties for the 2018-2019 school year, the West Virginia Legislature allocated $3 million to a major CIS expansion, including in Raleigh County. With continued growth and demonstrated results, the Legislature allocated $4.9 million to CIS sites across West Virginia for FY22.
- Addressing stigmatization of student support services: Through extensive stakeholder interviews and needs assessments, Raleigh County identified that CIS helped to address an underlying barrier: stigmatization of students receiving counseling and related social services. Because the CIS model includes highly-visible, school-wide goal-setting and programming, coupled with the fact that the site coordinator engages with many students (not just those they case manage), Raleigh County schools report heightened awareness of and engagement with student support services.
- State and national recognition: West Virginia’s first phase of CIS implementation, including in Raleigh County, has recieved significant statewide and national attention. For instance, West Virginia Public Broadcasting aired a documentary short on CIS’s success in the state in November 2021; First Lady Cathy Justice honored three CIS site coordinators in September 2020 with the Rhododendron Award , which recognizes the state’s “unsung heroes”; and CIS itself honored West Virgnia Governor Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice with the CIS Policy Champion Award in 2019 for their advocacy of the largest-ever expansion of the model.
In Raleigh County, WV, extensive economic and social challenges were negatively affecting children's development. Schools in the county performed poorly on academic, behavioral, and attendance metrics.
In 2019, Raleigh County launched the Communities in Schools (CIS) program in five schools. The CIS model aims to connect students and families with resources supporting their academic, behavioral, health, safety, and other needs. Central to that goal are site coordinators at each school, who act as the link between students and the community’s existing support services. Site coordinators implement school-wide supports, interventions targeted at groups, and intensive interventions for individuals with acute challenges.
Keys to the program’s success included high level champions, like the state’s First Lady, Cathy Justice, who successfully advocated for funding for the program; a rigorous recruitment and hiring process for site coordinators; a gradual rollout across the district; buy-in from school and district leaders, who built students and families’ familiarity with the program; multiple levels of support for coordinators to ensure they have proper resources; and data-driven evaluation, which demonstrated the program’s effectiveness.
The biggest challenges the program faced included cultivating buy-in from teachers, countering skepticism toward an “outsider” program, creating a sustainable funding plan, and adapting the model to virtual learning.
What was the challenge?
- Raleigh County families grapple with poverty, opioid crisis: In Raleigh County, many children face significant barriers to academic success outside of school: one in three children live in poverty and county residents are among the most vulnerable to drug overdose in the United States. Across the state, West Virginia has seen the number of homeless students and children in foster care grow to some of the highest rates in the country.
- Schools fall short of state behavioral and academic standards: During the 2018-19 academic year, Raleigh County had an 85 percent graduation rate — 5 points below the state rate. Across the county, nearly all schools failed to meet the state standard for attendance and other behavioral metrics, while few met standards for math or English.
- Underutilized public and community services: Raleigh County had an existing network of community-based organizations, faith-based groups, and social service agencies to provide support to families in need, and many schools had some form of academic and/or behavioral counseling. Still, many students and families lacking resources were unaware of school- and community-based services or how to connect to them.
What was the solution?
- Connecting students and families to a wide range of supports: Communities in Schools works directly with students and families to connect them with resources supporting their academic, behavioral, health, safety, and other needs. Delivered through an in-school site coordinator, CIS cultivates relationships both within the school and with external community groups to ensure public school students have the support they need to succeed.
- A dedicated in-school coordinator: The CIS model is anchored by a site coordinator, who acts as the link between students and the community’s existing support services. The site coordinator is responsible for building relationships with external community groups (like churches and the United Way), which can help students with basic needs and resources (such as clothing, food, and emergency housing); teachers and other school staff, who can collaborate on strategies to help students improve behavioral and academic outcomes; and families, who may be in need of some social supports themselves (such as legal counsel or addiction treatment).
- Three tiers of student support: Site coordinators provide three levels of support: Tier 1 supports, which advance school-wide goals such as improved attendance and graduation rates; Tier 2 supports, which are targeted services for a group of students that have a shared need; and Tier 3 supports, intensive, one-on-one case management to help individual students achieve specific academic and behavioral goals. Site coordinators have significant latitude to develop systems of support at both the student and school-wide level.
- Continuous, measurable improvement: At the beginning of each school year, the site coordinator, in close consultation with school and district leadership, conducts a needs assessment using school and community data and stakeholder interviews. This process allows the school to set clear, measurable goals, against which the site coordinator tracks school and student performance throughout the year. Site coordinators leverage CIS’s data management system to analyze school data, measure effectiveness of tactics and strategies, and refine approaches as needed. Crucially, this measurement allows site coordinators to demonstrate the program’s impact and make a clear case for additional resources to public, private, and nonprofit funders.
- Local, state, and national support for site coordinators: Given the complexity of a site coordinator’s role, the West Virginia Department of Education, as the state’s CIS licensed partner, works between the national CIS office and individual school districts to ensure each site has appropriate resources and support. To achieve this, the state employs four full-time regional CIS coordinators. They regularly engage with both the in-school site coordinators directly and a district-based point of contact. The CIS national office also has a staff member assigned to support the state’s Department of Education, helping facilitate trainings, plan convenings, and collaborate to bring additional services into schools.
- Extensive and frequent training: The CIS model prioritizes a rigorous training process prior to school-level implementation, followed up by ongoing professional development opportunities. This includes a weeklong summer training for new site coordinators and their principals, skill-building workshops throughout the school year, and frequent virtual convenings of site coordinators from around the country to cultivate a community of practice.
What factors drove success?
- Vocal champions at the highest level of state government: First Lady Cathy Justice, familiar with CIS from its long-successful implementation in her home county, Greenbrier, leveraged her role within the state government to convene CIS national leadership, state lawmakers, and private funders. Her private work, paired with her and Governor Justice’s strong endorsement of public investment in the program, led to the state’s initial allocation of $3 million and its subsequent expansion. First Lady Justice visits Communities in Schools sites on a regular basis, meeting with individual students and participating in school-wide rallies and career-focused events.
- A rigorous recruitment and hiring process for site coordinators: The CIS model relies heavily on the site coordinator, who must cultivate strong relationships with families, students, school staff, and community groups in order to provide significant value. To that end, Raleigh County prioritized hiring site coordinators with established roots in the community and existing relationships with key partners. This approach enabled site coordinators to more rapidly connect students and families to high-need services both inside and outside the school building.
- Implementing CIS gradually across the district and state: At both the district and state levels, education leaders were deliberate in rolling out CIS on a small scale before ramping up. For instance, Raleigh County launched CIS in just five out of its 27 schools in 2019. Similarly, West Virginia piloted the program in three counties before expanding to eight more — with a goal of reaching all 55 in the years to come. This gradual approach has allowed jurisdictions to zero in on and address early pain points, ensuring a higher degree of success for new implementing locations.
- Familiarizing school and district leaders with the CIS model: The CIS model requires strong buy-in from school and district leaders prior to implementation (including investing significant time in training). In Raleigh County, similar to other implementing counties across the state, school and district leaders played a major role in boosting the site coordinator’s credibility from launch among students, families, school staff, and community partners.
- Multiple levels of support for coordinators: In West Virginia, site coordinators are in regular communication with administrators at the district and state levels, along with CIS national staff. CIS also facilitates a community of practice for site coordinators across the country, which included West Virginia Department of Education CIS staff visiting their Texas counterparts. This multi-tiered network of support ensures site coordinators have access to necessary resources, thought partners for creative problem-solving, and opportunities to share successful strategies.
- Making the case for public investment through data-driven evaluation: The CIS emphasis on school-wide and student-specific data tracking allowed the program to demonstrate strong results to state legislators and the governor. This clear evidence paved the way for an initial $3 million investment in 2019, which is now up to nearly $5 million annually.
What were the major obstacles?
- Cultivating buy-in from teachers: A major element of the CIS model’s success is empowering a site coordinator to use nontraditional tactics to engage individual students (i.e. having a morning coffee or post-lunch check-in with a case managed student). In some schools, this new type of student engagement led to significant pushback from teachers. However, principals often helped to smooth out these initial challenges as the program matured.
- Countering the “outsider” stigma: As a national organization that had only a small footprint in West Virginia prior to arrival in Raleigh County, some families and community members were initially skeptical of the CIS implementation and its sudden presence in multiple schools. To address this, Raleigh County prioritized hiring site coordinators with deep roots and connections in the area, proactively communicated the need for the program, and tailored some program-related language to better fit the community (such as referring to site coordinators as “student success liaisons”).
- Creating a sustainable, district-driven funding plan: To date, CIS in Raleigh County relies heavily on annual state investment and federal funding streams. While those dollars helped Raleigh County launch the program, district leaders, at the direction of the state department of education, must now develop a long-term funding plan that includes new, local funding sources in order to sustain the program at scale.
- Adapting the model to virtual learning: A major component of the CIS model is relationship-building — a task made far more challenging in a remote learning environment. Site coordinators often rely on informal interactions (such as attending recess or lunch) to cultivate relationships with students. Additionally, student needs that a site coordinator would typically support soared during the pandemic, leaving some with unmanageable caseloads. However, virtual learning has provided some ancillary benefits, such as increased engagement from students who did not feel comfortable attending counseling sessions in person.
With a decade of experience engaging directly with young people who had dropped out of schools in New York City, Bill Milliken launches the Community in Schools model. “It’s relationships, not programs, that change children,” Milliken, who remained CIS President until 2004, explained. “Young people thrive when adults care about them on a one-to-one level, and when they also have a sense of belonging to a caring community.” The program begins to expand across the country, and now operates in 2,900 schools across the country.
As CIS steadily expands to new school districts across the country, it participates in three separate evaluations to demonstrate the impact and cost-effectiveness of the model. They include a five-year impact report from ICF international in 2011, an economic impact analysis on high school-serving CIS affiliates from EMSF in 2012, and a pair of reports from MDRC published in 2017, including both a quasi-experimental study and a randomized control trial. Results across time periods and locations were broadly positive, including increases in high school graduation rates, reductions in dropout rates, and improved performance in math and reading.
With West Virginia’s students facing significant barriers to success, Jim Justice is elected governor. First Lady Cathy Justice zeroes in on dropout prevention as her signature initiative. CIS, which had been successfully operating in her home county, Greenbrier, since 2003, is quickly identified as a potential model to address the dropout challenge statewide.
To ensure CIS is in schools by the next academic year, Cathy Justice convenes CIS executive leadership and state education and gubernatorial staff to discuss rapid implementation and scaling. Quickly, leaders from CIS and West Virginia recognize that the mode is a strong fit for the state’s needs and begin coordinating implementation.
As First Lady and Governor Cathy and Jim Justice champion the model (Governor Justice even begins to donate his biweekly paychecks to the state affiliate), Communities in Schools launches in three counties to pilot a statewide approach. The state hires two full time CIS administrators to support the pilot and potential scaling, in addition to site coordinators at each pilot school. With promising results in all three counties — including improved attendance, behavior, and academic performance — state leaders evaluate their options for further expansion.
As the state continues to prioritize alleviating child poverty, reducing high school dropout rates, and addressing youth homelessness, the West Virginia State Legislature allocates $3 million to expand from three counties to 11 — the largest single expansion in the 42-year history of Communities in Schools. The funding enables CIS to operate in 59 West Virginia schools serving more than 26,000 students.
Raleigh County, as one of eight new CIS counties in the state, places site coordinators in three elementary schools (out of 17), one middle school (out of 5) , and a high school (out of 5). Quickly, parents and community groups begin to embrace the CIS model, paving the way for expansion to the county’s career academy the next year.
With successful launches in six schools, Raleigh County continues to invest in CIS, integrating the program into its remaining three high schools. Working closely with CIS national staff and the West Virginia Department of Education, Raleigh County is now planning for additional expansion of the model.
Recognizing the organization’s evidence-based approach and demonstrated impact across the country, MacKenzie Scott donates $133.5 million to Communities in Schools -- the largest gift in the organization’s history. The unrestricted funds will be used to help CIS expand its presence to all Title I schools and to increase supports for students as site coordinator caseloads rise during the COVID pandemic.
How did leaders confront the problem?
- A community in need: For years, Raleigh County faced high rates of poverty, homelessness, and substance abuse. While community- and faith-based groups played a significant role in delivering support services, their capacity to support children and families directly was limited.
- Raleigh County students struggling: With many students facing a myriad of challenges outside of school, academic and behavioral performance within the school building suffered. High school graduation rates stagnated below the state rate, and the majority of schools fell short of many key behavioral and academic standards. School and district leaders, unsatisfied with the status quo, sought solutions that could positively impact Raleigh County students.
- New Governor and First Lady seek to address dropout prevention: After Jim Justice was elected Governor of West Virginia in 2016, First Lady Cathy Justice took on dropout prevention — already a statewide priority — as a major piece of her portfolio. State policy staff began to research evidence-based interventions.
- Momentum builds for CIS expansion across West Virginia: Recognizing the success of CIS in her home county, Greenbrier, for over a decade, First Lady Justice invited CIS national leadership to the state for a convening with senior state education and gubernatorial staff. State education leaders, who already had some familiarity with the program, then moved to hire administrative staff and allocate the funds necessary to implement the CIS model in West Virginia public schools.
- Piloting the program in three counties: With strong support among state leaders, CIS piloted its model in three counties. Initial results were extremely promising, leading to further interest in expansion statewide. Recognizing both the county’s need and schools’ eagerness to implement the model, West Virginia selected Raleigh County as one of eight new counties to launch CIS for the 2019-20 school year.
How was the strategy designed?
- Connecting students to a range of services in and out of school: To help students and families access support services, a full time Communities in Schools’ site coordinator is responsible for building relationships with students, families, school staff, and external community groups (such as churches and the local United Way chapter). The coordinator then leverages these relationships to connect students to everything from basic needs (such as clothing or emergency housing) to academic supports (like helping a family find a tutor). In addition to case management for individual students, site coordinators work closely with school leadership to set and achieve school-wide goals (like improved attendance).
- Setting goals and tracking progress: To evaluate the effectiveness of student and school supports, the site coordinator begins each school year by conducting a needs assessment. This process helps the coordinator identify which students will receive individual support; it also allows school leaders to determine school-wide priorities and to set measurable goals. Then, throughout the year, the site coordinator collects and analyzes a range of academic and behavioral data, enabling them to measure progress towards school-wide and individual student targets. This emphasis on data also helps the site coordinator refine their tactics and strategies for engaging with individual students and the broader school community.
- Intensive training for coordinators and principals: To prepare site coordinators and principals to deliver the CIS model, they participate in an intensive, weeklong training before each school year, along with regular professional development opportunities throughout the year. Principals are required to participate in the training, which helps them to better integrate the site coordinator into the school’s existing operations and to serve as an internal champion of CIS.
- Frequent communication between state, county, and in-school CIS staff: To maximize a site coordinator’s impact, CIS and the West Virginia Department of Education provide reliable lines of communication and support. These include monthly calls with all site coordinators in West Virginia for sharing best practices, frequent contact with state and district CIS administrators for collaborative problem-solving, and participating in community of practice events facilitated by CIS’s national team.
How was the plan implemented?
- Selecting schools for CIS implementation: With funding for four site coordinators (including one who would split time between schools), Raleigh County Schools zeroed in on three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school to launch CIS in the district. To select the schools, district leaders used a simple set of criteria: 1) U.S. Department of Education Title 1 eligibility and 2) the extent of student poverty. Importantly, the district selected elementary schools that fed into the same middle school, ensuring students would experience program continuity as they advanced.
- Developing a site coordinator hiring strategy: With the CIS schools selected, the Raleigh County CIS coordinator formed a hiring committee including the five implementing school principals, and the district director of counseling services. After settling on a hiring process, the committee posted the role publicly, which quickly yielded 60 applications for the four positions. Shortly after interviews, the committee came to a consensus and placed site coordinators in schools.
- Training principals and coordinators: Once hired, site coordinators, along with their principals, attended a weeklong training in Huntington, West Virginia. The first two days focused on data collection and evaluation, especially using the CIS data management system. The rest of the week was dedicated to strategies around integrating the site coordinator into existing school operations, communicating with families, and addressing common implementation challenges.
- Conducting the needs assessment: Among the first tasks a site coordinator takes on is conducting a school-wide needs assessment. Through a series of stakeholder interviews, data analysis, and surveys, the site coordinator works with school staff to set priorities and concrete targets for the upcoming school year (ie. increasing attendance by 10 percent) and to identify existing barriers to achieving those goals.
- Building relationships in and out of school: While also conducting the needs assessment, site coordinators dedicate the first eight weeks or so to building strong relationships with all key stakeholders. Within the school, they begin to engage with students in one-on-one sessions and through proactive engagement at times like lunch and recess. Similarly, they meet with families, teachers, school counselors, and others who may be able to refer or identify students who could most benefit from CIS. Coordinators dedicate a significant portion of their time to engaging with potential partners, such as nonprofits, churches, food banks, and others that can provide crucial services to students in need.
How was the approach funded?
- Initial staff hiring and training: As one of eight counties implementing after the pilot year, Raleigh County Schools was allocated $360,000 over two years from the State of West Virginia’s general budget. This funding covered four site coordinators, who each earned a starting salary of $40,000 annually plus benefits and training. As the county grows the CIS presence, the state has increased its allocation to Raleigh County. Across the state, West Virginia now invests nearly $5 million per year in CIS.
- Supplementing state allocation with federal funds: As Raleigh County sought to rapidly scale the CIS model, it used Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) and American Recovery Plan (ARP) funding to hire four additional staff and expand to all five high schools (one of which has two coordinators due to its size). Raleigh County Schools also supplements its budget with approximately $172,000 in annual U.S. Department of Education Title IV-A funding (a flexible student support grant).
- Private donations to state CIS affiliate: In its role as the state’s licensed CIS affiliate agency, the West Virginia Department of Education launched a 501(c)(3) to accept private donations. Initially, Governor Justice donated his biweekly paycheck (roughly $6,000) to Communities In Schools West Virginia. Some companies with a major presence in West Virginia, like BB&T, also gave significant gifts. CIS schools in Raleigh County have received a wide range of private donations every year, like food and hygiene supplies from local churches and coats from a local Firefighter’s Association.
How was the approach measured and refined?
- Prioritizing data collection and analysis to improve student outcomes: A pillar of the CIS model is ongoing data collection, monitoring, and analysis through its data management system. CIS dedicates roughly 40 percent of its summer training to data-related technical skills to ensure that site coordinators and principals are prepared for the continuous improvement process. Throughout the school year, site coordinators set school-wide and student-specific targets, and then measure progress and adapt strategies as needed.
- Making the case for public investment: The CIS emphasis on school-wide and student-specific data tracking allowed the program to demonstrate strong results to state legislators and the governor. This clear evidence — built on 40 years of strong evaluation practices — paved the way for an initial $3 million investment in 2019, which is now up to nearly $5 million annually.
- Pivoting to virtual support during COVID: With the COVID pandemic striking during the first year of CIS implementation in Raleigh County, state, district, and school leaders quickly shifted to a virtual learning environment. For site coordinators and CIS regional staff, this meant working closely with families to connect them to broadband and devices, and updating student and family contact information for remote 1:1 sessions.
- West Virginia DOE evaluating CIS impact: The West Virginia Department of Education is investing its own resources into a rigorous impact evaluation of the model. Doing so will allow the department to demonstrate CIS’s impact locally as school districts seek to identify long-term funding streams.
Results for America would like to thank the following individuals for their help in completing this case study: West Virginia First Lady Cathy Justice; Vicki Shannon, Executive Assistant to the First Lady; Michele Blatt, West Virginia Deputy State Superintendent of Schools; Cynthia Sorsaia and Tracy Komorowski, Coordinators at the West Virginia State Department of Education’s Office of Student Support & Well-Being; Jami Hughes, Raleigh County School District’s Assistant Director of Federal Programs and Communities in Schools County Contact; Erin Boyd, former CIS site coordinator in Raleigh County and now Regional Specialist for CIS; Samantha Lilly, CIS site coordinator in Raleigh County; Laura VanDeusen and Michael Huang of Communities in Schools, and Dale Erquiaga, formerly of Communities in Schools.
This case study was written by Gabi Remz and Ross Tilchin