Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Reconnecting Neighborhoods with Schools in Nebraska

Coalition for Community Schools, on behalf of Lincoln Public Schools, Nebraska

Story posted June, 2008, Updated December, 2011


  • 71 percent of students enrolled in Lincoln CLCs met or exceeded state writing standards
  • 74 percent met or exceeded state reading standards
  • 84 percent met or exceeded the math standards

The story of Lincoln's community school movement begins in 1999, when the notion of "community learning centers" (CLC), synonymous with community schools, peaked the interest of the Foundation for the Lincoln Public Schools (FLPS), a local education fund affiliated with the Public Education Network (PEN). This interest grew with a visit that key Lincoln stakeholders took to the Local Investment Commission in Kansas City to look at their Caring Communities work, another model of community schooling.

Later that same year, the Lincoln Community Foundation awarded a grant to the LPS Foundation to assess community interest in implementing quality after-school programming with an academic emphasis. They found high support for developing and sustaining neighborhood schools as a resource to meet diverse community human service and educational needs. Thus Lincoln CLCs began as a public engagement effort, which resulted in part in the passage of a $250 million facility bond issue by a 67% margin in February 2006. Today, Lincoln, NE, has 23 CLCs (community schools).

Many of the key leaders who initially visited Kansas City have remained committed to this work and are now members of the Lincoln CLC Leadership Council. The Council is a diverse group of community stakeholders whose primary role and responsibility is guiding the development and long term financing of the Initiative. Their goals are to develop Lincoln's capacity to implement shared partnerships and to mobilize resources to ensure Community Learning Centers are a fundamental part of the community fabric.

Lincoln1WEB.jpgEach CLC site or pair of sites has an operating School Neighborhood Advisory Committee (SNAC). SNACs are the cornerstone of Community Learning Center (CLC) governance, and are made up of parents, youth, educations and other school personnel, neighborhood residents, concerned citizens, community-based organizations and service providers. Their primary function is to assist with planning, communication, and oversight of the neighborhood CLC.

Each CLC has its own vision. For example, neighborhood revitalization and empowerment is a focus of the Community Learning Center at Saratoga Elementary School. Through a variety of partnerships, students in the after-school program, neighborhood residents, and others, a committee has formed that identifies issues and conditions affecting the neighborhood, and works to find ways to address those issues. Not only are students becoming civically engaged, they are able to tie this real-world learning to what they are learning in the classroom. A great example of this connection between living and learning is found in the school's community garden project. The garden is planted, tended, and harvested by students in the after-school and summer programs. Parents and children are introduced to a variety of fresh foods that are grown in the garden, and they are also taught how to prepare those foods.

The CLCs are having a major impact on Lincoln's students. Since implementarion, more than 90% of participating students had fewer than three behavior referrals per year. 76% of participating students improve their class participation, and 71% improve their attendance. In addition, 69% improved their homework completion rate.

What makes the CLC initiative unique? According to Cathie Petsch, co-coordinator of the CLC initiative, it is the core value held by people in Lincoln that life long learning is a community-wide responsibility. She also cites the emphasis on building capacity within community systems to produce sustained improvements and results. "We are building an infrastructure that turns reform work into the new way of doing business everyday," says Cathie Petsch.

December 2011 Update:

The Lincoln Community Learning Centers in Lincoln, Nebraska continue their success. Twelve years after Lincoln’s community school movement began, there are now 25 CLCs. 2010-2011 classroom teacher survey outcomes (part of Observations for Quality Nebraska State Evaluation for 21st Century Programs) show that us that it’s working. According to the survey, 71 percent of students enrolled in Lincoln CLCs met or exceeded state writing standards; 74 percent met or exceeded state reading standards; and 84 percent met or exceeded the math standards. Other encouraging results include: students turning in homework on time, getting along better with others and being attentive in class.

The programs continue to be well-organized, connected and easy to access. In addition to the School Neighborhood Advisory Committee (SNAC) that assists with planning, services, oversight and communication, the program is support by the leadership council, various subgroups and the Neighborhood Action Team, which provide extra support to evaluate successes, connect to the community and the public, and conduct professional development for the CLC staff.

These programs, each still unique in offering, all continue to provide services ranging from early childhood programs and health services, to housing assistance, counseling and much more. Much of this initiative’s success, and longevity, can be attributed to the myriad of strong local partnerships that all aim to address needs of the community members. Thanks to a recent profile by the NEA Priority Schools Campaign, which featured the initiative in their 2011 publication Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0, we know their efforts are paying off and offer a model for other schools and localities to increase student performance and quality of life.

For additional information, please contact:
Cathie Petsch
Community Learning Centers Co-Coordinator, Lincoln Public Schools

This story came to LFA's attention for after being honored with a 2006 Community Schools National Award for Excellence, presented by the Coalition for Community Schools.

Story reposted with permission from the Coalition for Community Schools