“On a local level, some schools can use the key practices to try to create the “right” conditions, but improving the schools experiencing the most difficulties—those that may not have the capacity to carry out these key practices—may have to begin in the surrounding neighborhoods, towns, and cities, and draw on other sources of support.”
(Hatch, 2009, p. 152)

Rather than one-size-fits-all policies and approaches, the work to improve schools needs to take into account each school’s circumstances and build on whatever strengths and assets each school has. These strengths and assets serve as the leading edge of capacity: places where work inside the school might be able to begin and where work already underway might be extended.

  • Work on the inside needs to provide a clear sense of priorities but also take into account who will do the work and what support they will need to do it (see Figure 7.1).

  • But if schools are asked and expected to achieve things without regard for the capacity and support they need to do it, that they do not have the capacity or support to achieve it launching an ambitious reform effort can lead to a cycle of failure that can be much more destructive than not doing anything at all (see Figure 7.2).

When repeated efforts to improve a school fail, then it makes more sense to turn the attention to finding and building capacity alongside the school and changing the focus from school improvement to community development. Community organizing initiatives can help to create the kind of foundation even schools in the most difficult circumstances need to begin building capacity by focusing on:

  • Enhancing the physical environment,
  • Establishing local programs for children and youth,
  • Developing the local workforce