History + Background
When the current community wraparound strategy launched in 2013, Cleveland’s public schools and students faced many challenges. These included:
Declining enrollment, with 30,000 students having left the district over the previous decade;
Poor academic performance, with 55 percent of Cleveland schools (district and charter) ranked in the state’s two lowest academic performance categories;
Low high school graduation rates, with only 59 percent of students graduating high school in four years;
Low attendance rates, with more than 18,000 of CMSD’s almost 40,000 students, or 45 percent, chronically absent.
Of course, these challenges were not the fault of children or families themselves. Instead, they stemmed from governmental and institutional policies that isolated some Cleveland families — particularly African-American families — in neighborhoods that were vibrant and supportive in many ways, but that also struggle with high concentrations of poverty and disinvestment.
The Cleveland Plan, enabled by state legislation in 2012, is a comprehensive strategy to address these challenges while ensuring that every child in Cleveland receives a high-quality education. Community wraparound was one of the reforms prioritized by the Cleveland Plan.
Growth in Cleveland and the Nation
Wraparound programs were already in place in Cleveland on a limited scale, but the Cleveland Plan allowed them to expand both in scope and number. For the 2013–14 school year, CMSD implemented community wraparound in 17 schools, and added eight more for 2014–15. The 25 community wraparound schools represent about a quarter of the 106 public schools in the district.
Cleveland is far from the only city to adopt a wraparound strategy. In 2017, about 100 communities in the U.S. operated wraparound programs, up from 33 in 2007. This growth has been due largely to a growing body of research showing that the wraparound model is effective at removing barriers to academic success. For example, wraparound schools show consistently higher attendance rates than similar schools without wraparound programs. They also have lower rates of chronic absenteeism.
The work of the New York City-based Children’s Aid Society, National Center for Community Schools significantly informed Cleveland’s expanded program. The Center, founded in 1994, has helped implement most major community wraparound initiatives across the U.S. Based on long-term research about what works best to serve students and families, the Center defines a community wraparound school as placing students at the center of a triangle of support systems:
a strong core instructional program;
expanded learning opportunities for both students and families;
a full range of health, mental health, and social services.
The Center worked with CMSD and its partners to adapt the wraparound model to the specific needs of Cleveland.
A Network of Support
Wraparound places students, families, and community members at the center of a network of support.
“Wrapping around” them are professionals and organizations who help meet their needs, whether academic, social, or emotional. There are no “bright lines” defining who provides what type of support. But one of the strengths of the wraparound model is that it allows principals and teachers to do what they do best — educate — while other trained professionals focus on the community’s non-academic needs.
CMSD and United Way: Co-Leaders and Conveners
One of the features that makes the Cleveland program unique is that it’s not managed by the school district alone. Instead, CMSD co-leads the wraparound strategy with United Way of Greater Cleveland, the largest private-sector funder of health and human services in the region.
United Way is a critical partner because it raises and allocates funds for, and offers strategic guidance to, a range of charitable organizations throughout Greater Cleveland. As such, it can convene and empower organizations to address the complex problems facing Cleveland schools.
“United Way is all about mobilizing people and resources to serve the community,” says Augie Napoli, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Cleveland. “I think wraparound is the best example of our agency doing work that aligns with that mission.”
For the first year of the program, 2013–14 school year, CMSD and United way each committed $500,000 to the initiative. The Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the Cleveland Browns Foundation and the Saint Luke’s Foundation were early supporters of the strategy.
Community Wraparound Funders
Since 2013, the community wraparound strategy’s investors have included:
United Way of Greater Cleveland
Cleveland Metropolitan School District
Jewish Federation of Cleveland
Thomas H. White Foundation
Eva L. & Joseph M. Bruening Foundation
Saint Luke’s Foundation
Third Federal Foundation
Cleveland Browns Foundation
The Abington Foundation
US Bank Foundation
Individual Donor Designations through Workplace Campaign
Lead Agencies: Brokers and Providers
Lead agencies are nonprofit organizations who operate under CMSD and United Way to operate wraparound programs at the school level. They are selected by schools themselves because schools best understand the needs of their students and communities.
At present, 16 lead agencies serve 25 schools. They range from social service agencies to arts organizations to neighborhood development corporations. Importantly, schools choose the lead agencies with which they will work, to allow school leaders to feel “incredible buy-in from the beginning” with the wraparound model, in the words of CMSD’s Eric Gordon.
Lead agencies help establish schools as hubs for community resources. “Our role is to bring community resources to schools to help kids and their families,” as one lead agency director put it.
By bringing services to schools, lead agencies offer “the convenience of bringing assets to a centralized location where a parent or family is connected most,” in the words of another.
Lead agencies not only offer in-school services themselves, but also invite other agencies to provide a range of services they cannot. For example, a lead agency that is an arts organization may invite other agencies to provide in-school math tutoring or computer programming classes; in-school dental clinics; or job training programs for adults.
The services offered are always based on the needs of the students, the community, and aligned with the goals of the school. That’s why, while some lead agencies serve multiple schools, no two wraparound schools look exactly alike.
For each school they serve, lead agencies receive a grant, which pays for the site coordinator’s salary and provides a budget for events, food, and other supplies. In addition to services specific to individual schools, all wraparound schools must provide academic tutoring. They must also offer services that extend to times when school is not in session.
Since 2013, the community wraparound strategy’s lead agencies have included:
Boys & Girls Club of Greater Cleveland
Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc.
Eleanor B. Rainey Institute
Friendly Inn Settlement, Inc.
West Side Community House
The Centers for Families and Children
College NOW Greater Cleveland
Cleveland Play House
Cuyahoga Community College
Bellaire Puritas Development Corporation
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland State University
Neighborhood Leadership Institute
Site Coordinators: ‘Interacters’ and Doers
For each of its partner schools, the lead agency hires a site coordinator — a full-time, on-site staff member who works directly to assist students, families, and community members with whatever they need.
“In the most creative way possible, we eliminate barriers to success,” is how one site coordinator put it. “I’m a gap filler,” said another.
Site coordinators are partners, not tenants, of schools. They report both to their lead agency and the principal of their school. They meet regularly with principals to monitor progress and discuss new program ideas, with principals making final decisions about programs and services that are implemented.
A site coordinator’s day is “never cookie-cutter,” in the words of one coordinator. Another described the variety of a “typical” work day:
It started with a father who was facing deportation. I helped his family find pro bono immigration lawyers. Then I talked to a family who’s struggling with homelessness, and connected them to a place where they might find temporary housing. I set up a care closet that contains toothbrushes for kids who don’t have them and snacks if they’re hungry.
Site coordinators operate school-wide initiatives and plan large community-wide events. But because everyone’s needs are different, the heart of their work is one-on-one interaction — with students, families, and community members. These interactions are both deliberate and spontaneous. While student contact often occurs in site coordinators’ offices, it can also happen in hallways or classrooms. Conversations often touch on deeply personal issues such as family, relationship, or financial difficulties — underlining the need for site coordinators to be able to handle a wide variety of both academic and emotional challenges.