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Community Can-Do: How Communities in Schools of Georgia supports 180,000 students yearly

With 31 affiliates, including seven in the Atlanta area, Communities in Schools of Georgia (CISGA) works to improve academic outcomes for students across the state. Their numbers speak for themselves: In the 2013-14 school year, CISGA’s network of 4,800 volunteers, including 427 tutors and almost 1,500 mentors, served more than 180,000 Georgia students. But along with developing services like after-school and in-school programs, tutoring and mentoring, and career preparation, CISGA must also make sure each affiliate delivers the “CIS Model” with “fidelity, scalability, and long-term sustainability,” said President and CEO Carol F. Lewis.

In accordance with national CIS standards, the state office “focuses on board governance, leadership development and succession, and resource development and planning” in each affiliate organization, said Lewis. Their attention to back-office discipline as well as the full range of their students’ needs has resulted in community impact and strong partnerships as well as, within the organization, a series of successes—in strategy and sustainability, in foundational support, and in building organizational/human capital.

Modeling fidelity

Communities in Schools employs a unique model for identifying and fulfilling the individual needs of students and schools. A big part of their success, said Lewis, comes from “putting site coordinators directly into the schools to help students succeed,” connecting them with mentors, tutors, and other adult role models.

Role modeling, for CISGA and the national organization, is “not a standalone program, but part of the model,” said Lewis. “A one-on-one relationship with a caring adult is something every child needs and deserves. It’s one of the founding principles of CIS.” For Lewis, it’s also personal: “Mentoring is how I became involved with CISGA, more than 25 years ago in my hometown. I continue to stay in touch with my mentee.”

Modeling also plays a role organizationally. Because they take organizational development seriously, CISGA joined Bridgespan’s Leading for Impact program, a multi-year performance-raising process presented in partnership with GCN. Alongside a cohort of sector peers, the program of training, coaching, and strategic planning “requires our leadership team to invest in analytical rigor, metrics, and stakeholder involvement,” said Lewis. “We have already made tremendous progress, and I’m confident that, upon completing the work, we will be a much stronger organization, better able to articulate the impact our network is having on Georgia.”

They’ll also be able to model and pass along those skills to their affiliates across the state, making sure that the analytical, decision-making, and outreach tools they’ve developed are put to use for the benefit of all CIS stakeholders. “Our approach to supporting our network of affiliates will be greatly enhanced,” said Lewis. “The entire Georgia network will be more sustainable and produce better outcomes.”

More Stories, Partners, Communities, and Impact

Last year, CISGA provided students at 208 different schools with safe spaces for learning and growth, connecting them with resources—adults, community organizations, and businesses—that give them a healthy start, a marketable skill, and the opportunity to give back. The CIS national network has produced hundreds of thousands of success stories—one of which, Jamal’s, has become part of the national organization’s new marketing campaign, “Change the Picture,” which “depicts our impact one child at a time,” said Lewis. Jamal’s story is like so many in Georgia and stands out because “a community effort took him from failure to success. But that story is just one of many in which students like Jamal receive the support that keeps them in school to graduation, and gets them thinking seriously about post-secondary education and careers.”

CISGA has recently seen a rise in stakeholders wanting to deepen their involvement—particularly among young professionals, reported Lewis. As a result, their annual planning has involved helping local affiliates identify opportunities for engaging those supporters further. The state office’s 20-member staff also continues working to leverage strategic partnerships and establish new ones: alongside long-time partners like IBM, Georgia Power, and the Corporation for National and Community Service, CISGA has recently formed new partnerships with State Farm, Publix, and the Atlanta Women’s Foundation.

The future of CISGA is guided by a vision of the CIS Model making its way into every Georgia district. “Through data and research, we expect that our model and mission will be clearly understood, embraced, and integrated into the educational experience for all Georgia students,” said Lewis. “Because the CIS Model of student support works: in rural or urban communities, in elementary, middle, or high school. Our results prove it.”

Marc Schultz is contributing editor at GCN.

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