What is a community school?

Community schools are often called “charter schools” in other states. Community schools are public, non-profit, and non-sectarian schools. These schools are a part of the state’s public education system, and they provide a valuable school choice option for students. They operate independently from school districts, but instead are authorized to operate by an approved sponsoring entity.

Community schools serve a wide variety of students. Most serve the same type of student body as traditional public schools. However, community schools are sometimes able to offer more flexibility in the manner in which the curriculum is delivered to students. Because of this, a community school may be better able to serve the particular needs of some students.

Some community schools serve a more particular type of student. For instance, some community schools are drop-out recovery schools. These schools focus on remedial work necessary to get students back on track towards graduation. Other schools focus on students with special needs, such as students who have been diagnosed with ADHD or an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Other community schools focus on gifted students and provide more accelerated or advanced learning than may be offered in their traditional schools.

An increasingly popular innovation in community schools is the “e-school,” which offers an internet-based virtual learning. This type of school is particularly attractive for athletes, students with jobs, or other students who need flexible scheduling. It can also be a good option for students in rural areas with limited school choice. Some schools also offer a blended learning model, in which schools use a combination of virtual and classroom-based learning.

How is a community school created?

A community school is created when an authorized sponsor enters into a community school contract with a governing authority for a community school. A community school must have a minimum of 25 students to open. However, there are many development steps that need to occur before a sponsor will enter a contract to open a new school. Developers must put together detailed school plans and make sure that they have established a team of people with the capacity to execute the plan effectively. We have provided more detailed information about the necessary components of a community school plan here, as well as information about the application process.

What is a governing authority?

A governing authority, or board, is a group created upon execution of a contract. The governing authority is made up of at least five individuals who are responsible to make decisions regarding the governance and operation of the school. Community school boards are not elected, and they are usually initially comprised of the people who developed the school. Board meetings are open to the public and subject to Ohio’s Sunshine Laws.

What is a sponsor?

A sponsor is an entity authorized by the state to oversee a community school. A school cannot open without the authorization of a sponsor. Sponsors can be school districts, public universities, educational service centers, and federal non-profit organizations approved to sponsor community schools.

Sponsors serve as the central quality control agent for community schools. Sponsors have three primary functions: technical assistance, monitoring, and intervention when necessary. Sponsors help schools stay compliant with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations. In addition, sponsors have the authority to put schools on corrective action plans if they are not performing or to close the school. Sponsors ensure that community schools provide quality education and appropriate services to Ohio’s students.

Am I ready to find a sponsor?

Starting up a new community school is a difficult task that requires you to find experts in many areas to develop a successful and sustainable school. It requires your commitment to excellence and your unwavering passion for education and for student achievement. Before you start, you should be sure that you have a clear idea of your reasons for starting your school, of the school’s mission, and of your long-term goals for the school.

Beyond the backbone idea of your school, you must also have a physical backbone. Do you have a community for your school? Is there a demonstrated need for your school? Do you have a physical location within that community?

Finally, it is important that you have a clear plan towards educational improvement and fiscal soundness. Do you have a clear educational program and curriculum guidelines for all grades? Do you have a plan to achieve academic improvement? Do you have funds or a clear plan to obtain the funds necessary to start a school? Do you have adequate people to support you in this endeavor?

The standards placed on community schools are strict. If you do not have the capacity to execute your plans, your school may be shut down. The ESC of Lake Erie West, therefore, is dedicated to ensuring that you have both a strong educational and financial plan before you are authorized to open a school. Starting a school before your plans are firmly in place and supported can be detrimental not only to your school, but also to the success of the charter school movement in Ohio as a whole.

Where can I start a community school?

New start-up schools can only be located in “challenged” school districts. These districts include the eight largest urban school districts, districts in the original pilot project area – Lucas County, districts ranked in the lowest 5% of school districts according to performance index score, or districts that received a grade of “D” or “F” for performance index score and a grade of “F” for value-added progress for two of the past three years.

How do I fund a community school?

Community schools in Ohio are generally funded monthly on a per-pupil basis from the state. Community schools may also receive any funds that students are eligible for because of special needs conditions, low-income status, or participation in career-technical programs.

Community school funding from the state is estimated at about 2/3 of the funding that traditional public schools receive. Community schools do not receive as much because they do not have access to funds from property taxes or local levies or from state facilities funding. Therefore, it is important that community schools secure substantial funds through grants or private or government sources.

Further, when thinking about starting a school, remember that any state funds based on pupil count will not likely be available for the school until a month or two after the school opens. School founders must ensure that they have adequate funding to address all start-up costs and to bankroll the first few months of operation without state assistance.

How are community schools held accountable?

Each community school receives a Local Report Card issued by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) at the end of the school’s second year of operation and each year thereafter. The community school receives a rating based upon its performance and the growth of its students. Schools receiving the lowest rating may be subject to automatic closure by the state if they do not improve. Community schools are also audited by ODE and by the Auditor of the State to ensure that they are meeting policy requirements and to monitor appropriate spending of public funds. Community school treasurers are required to be licensed school treasurers. The school’s sponsor also provides continuous oversight to help ensure that the school complies with all laws, rules, and regulations and achieves adequate progress.

Internally, the role of the sponsor is to hold the school accountable. ESCLEW provides extensive oversight on the school academics, finances, and operations. In addition, the charter school contract includes a Performance Accountability Framework, detailing the areas for which the school will be held accountable. The framework also includes academic and non-academic goals. Failure to meet these goals may result in non-renewal of a contract or in corrective action.

Please see the "Resources Links" section of our website for more information on community schools.

How is Special Education treated in community schools?

Community schools are held to the same standards for special education as traditional public schools, and they must ensure that all students receive a free, appropriate public education. Community schools must provide the required special education services and observe the procedures required under both federal and state law. If you as a founder of a community school do not have a strong background in education, it is imperative that you enlist the assistance of someone who fully understands the special education responsibilities to comply with all state and federal statutes, rules, and regulations. The Office of Exceptional Children and Office of Community Schools provide training, technical assistance, and monitoring to community schools. In addition, ESC of Lake Erie West has designated a special education consultant to address special education concerns and provide technical assistance to our sponsored community schools.

How is transportation provided to community school students?

Typically, community school students are transported by their resident districts following the same policies that are in place for students attending the traditional school, as long as the student’s ride is not longer than 30 minutes. It is always best to discuss your students’ needs with the resident district’s administration as soon as possible. A community school can also choose to arrange for its own transportation services, but this option should be discussed with and approved by the school’s governing authority and sponsor first.

Why ESCLEW?

The ESCLEW has been providing high quality sponsorship since the beginning of the community school movement in Ohio. We currently sponsor 59 schools throughout Ohio. In addition to schools with typical populations, we have experience overseeing schools focused on gifted students, students with special needs, and those focused on drop-out recovery. We also have experience with internet-based schools and currently sponsor the largest internet-based school in the nation. The ESCLEW has the expertise to provide you with strong technical assistance.

The ESCLEW prides itself on the service it provides to the schools it sponsors. Each school we sponsor is assigned to a regional consultant to ensure that the school receives personalized attention. We respond quickly to concerns and assist schools with any problems they might encounter. That said, we try to strike a balance in our level of involvement. If the school is doing well, we provide flexibility in operation of the school.

The ESCLEW Community Schools Center is a student-centered authorizer of charter schools, advancing quality educational opportunities throughout the state of Ohio. The Community Schools Center centers its work on this mission on the following core values:

  • Collective Integrity – We value people with high ethical standards, reliability, and trust, and we empower through accountability and transparency.
  • Relationship Building – We achieve partner satisfaction through customized creative solutions, being service-centered, and by understanding that every interaction is a moment of truth that creates an impression.
  • Continuous Improvement – We are committed to advancing our current condition and producing quality educational outcomes.
  • Proactive Spirit – We are ahead of information, anticipate change, and tailor tools and processes practically and professionally.
  • Work Life Balance – We plan for the future and live for the day. We live balanced lives, work hard toward our goals, and take time to celebrate personal and professional accomplishments.

What is the cost of sponsorship by ESCLEW?

The State of Ohio allows sponsors to charge up to 3% of the total amount of payments for operating expenses received by the school from the State of Ohio. The ESCLEW is dedicated to ensuring that school funding goes primarily to the students and their education, and we only charge an amount that will allow us to continue operation at a high quality. Currently, the ESCLEW charges 2% of the total amount of payments for operating expenses.
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