2013 Grants Challenge

Communities In Schools of Los Angeles: A Vision of 100% Graduation in LAUSD

At Communities In Schools of Los Angeles, our vision is 100% high school graduation. The current graduation rate for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is 64.2%, and among Latino and African American students it’s just 60% and 57% respectively. As the LA2050 report highlights, more than 20,000 Angelenos are entering our economy every year without a high school diploma.

Communities In Schools (CIS) is the nation's leading high school dropout prevention organization. Working nationally with 1.25 million students in 27 states, CIS is the only organization proven to increase graduation rates and decrease dropout rates in the schools in which they serve. Since its founding in 2007, CIS of Los Angeles has grown to serve over 16,000 low-income and minority students and families at 12 traditional, Title 1 public schools across LAUSD, with 2,300 students receiving individual case management.

A 2011 study by Robert Balfanz at Johns Hopkins University found that students who are most at-risk of dropping out of high school can be identified as early as 6th grade through three Early Warning Indicators (EWI’s): poor attendance, unsatisfactory behavior and course failure. These students have an 80% chance of dropping out and only a 10-20% chance of graduating from high school.

CIS of Los Angeles places Site Coordinators, passionate and extensively trained social workers and counselors, directly into the district’s highest need middle and high schools to support both individual-student as well as school-wide needs. Site Coordinators act as case managers, using the above mentioned EWI’s to identify underserved students most at-risk of dropping out, and connecting them with strategic partners to provide interventions which specifically address those students' unmet needs. CIS then follows up to make sure those services are getting students back on track to an on-time graduation. CIS Site Coordinators work before, during and after school, in teams of two to four, case managing up to 33% of the student body population at a site.

In addition to one-on-one case management, Site Coordinators work with school leadership to identify a school's biggest needs and develop a site plan outlining specific school-wide goals, including increasing overall attendance, reducing disciplinary incidents, or strengthening the college-going culture. Based on these goals, CIS Site Teams develop school-wide activities such as attendance initiatives, college & career fairs, behavior incentive programs and personal & professional development workshops. Parent engagement opportunities are also offered throughout the year, such as workshops about conducting effective parent-teacher conferences.

Because 37.5% of drop-outs happen in 9th grade, CIS has developed targeted initiatives for students in their freshman year, such as workshops on study skills and time management during this time of transition. At many of our schools, CIS partners with City Year for report card conferencing, during which trained, volunteer adult mentors meet with every single 9th grader for one-on-one assistance reviewing their report cards. These adults provide students with encouragement and advice, in addition to practical tools for initiating effective conversations with their teachers and improving their grades.

CIS’s work is guided by the Five Basics, a set of essentials every student needs and deserves: a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult; a safe place to learn and grow; a healthy start and a healthy future;, a marketable skill to use upon graduation; and a chance to give back to peers and community. This means that though CIS of Los Angeles will most directly impact LA2050’s Education indicator, our work also indirectly impacts the other indicators, including: Income & Employment, Health, Public Safety and Social Connectedness.

As Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said, “The path to the middle class today runs straight through the classroom.” The healthy and prosperous future of Los Angeles depends on improving our city’s graduation rates until 100% of our students receive a high school diploma.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Since starting our program at Venice and Hamilton High Schools in 2007, school-wide graduation rates have risen 9.8% and 12.4% respectively, with leadership reporting a stronger college-going culture at both schools. This despite massive budget cuts resulting in the loss of personnel at both schools, including teachers, college counselors, Title 1 Coordinators, Pupil Services & Attendance (PSA) counselors and school psychologists.

At Hollenbeck Middle School, the API score has risen 80 points in the past four years with CIS on campus, the greatest increase among any of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools in Boyle Heights, and the only one partnered with CIS.

Though we are facing a local and national dropout crisis, CIS’s approach of providing integrated student support services directly inside public schools has proven to be a successful intervention. Despite originally exhibiting risk factors, 96% of CIS of Los Angeles seniors graduated in June 2012 compared to the district's 62% graduation rate. 84% of CIS of Los Angeles students met their attendance goals, 81% met their academic achievement goals, and 84% met their behavior improvement goals.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

CIS establishes strategic partnerships with school leadership, community-based organizations, social services agencies, health care providers and parent and volunteer organizations to provide students with interventions that address their unmet needs.

Partners include:

Los Angeles Unified School District

City Year Los Angeles

Talent Development & Johns Hopkins University

Diplomas Now

Proyecto Pastoral

The Boyle Heights Learning Collaborative

The California Endowment

jk livin foundation


LA's Promise

The Mayor's Partnership


Step Up Women's Network


Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

CIS of Los Angeles is a data driven organization, committed to the rigorous measurement and monitoring of outcomes. We track students' attendance, behavior and academic marks every five weeks, in addition to annual graduation, culmination and grade promotion rates. We have also begun to collect longitudinal progression data to track individual students within our feeder patterns, with the longer-term aim of evaluating the impact of our program on every student as they progress from 6th-12th grade.

Data is entered directly into a national data management system and is analyzed by our Data Manager at the end of every semester, generating a comprehensive report of individual site and affiliate-wide progress. In the year-end report, we also utilize school-wide performance indicators – such as graduation and promotion rates, attendance rates, API scores and other metrics – to run comparative analyses on the strength of our programs and to evaluate CIS’ overall impact on a school community.

Ultimately, success is defined as a 100% graduation rate in the schools we serve. As we work to approach this 100%, we evaluate the success of our individual sites and our entire affiliate through annual benchmarks. These benchmarks are unique to each school and are determined by the above-mentioned student data. Individual students are considered successful if they graduate or promote to the next grade level, attend school more than 96% of the time, receive fewer than 2 unsatisfactory behavior marks on their report card and receive no F's on their report card. CIS benchmarks increase year by year at each school, as students continue to meet their goals.

Our Executive Director and Board of Directors use all of the above data to evaluate, guide and fine-tune the work we do with all of our students at all of our school sites. Two major questions inform our refinements: 1) Are 100% of our students considered successful by the above metrics? And 2) Has CIS positively addressed a school’s greatest needs in order to increase the graduation rate?

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

In 2012, Communities In Schools commissioned a national economic impact study to quantify its economic and social returns to society through a rigorous third-party investment analysis. Conducted by EMSI, one of the nation’s leading economic modeling firms, the study found that every dollar invested in Communities In Schools of Los Angeles generates $38.00 in economic benefit for the community. Students who earn a high school diploma have been shown to earn over $300,000 more over the course of their lifetime than peers who drop out. Businesses benefit by having a more skilled and productive workforce, taxpayers benefit through a broadening tax base, and the public generally benefits from reduced social costs attributed to dropping out of high school, such as crime and unemployment. Despite LAUSD’s 64.2% graduation rate, in 2012 96% of CIS of Los Angeles students graduated on-time from high school. The benefits to our community are much more than merely subjective. What does all of this mean? A $100,000 grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation through LA2050 would result in $3,800,000 in economic benefits to Los Angeles.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Success in 2050 would be a 100% graduation rate for students in LAUSD, achieved through the modification of the fundamental way in which resources are delivered to schools and families in Los Angeles. Every student would have access to coordinated, accountable, personalized assistance through a Site Coordinator, whose first responsibility would be to know the name of every student who might be at risk of dropping out. Community resources would be brought inside the system to provide a safety net of wraparound services for students and families.

As CIS founder, Bill Milliken, has written, “Scalability, sustainability, and evidence-based strategies are essential to creating permanent change in the way our education system combat the dropout epidemic.” The CIS model of placing a trained professional adult directly onto school campus full-time to act as a broker of community resources to students is a fully scalable approach to meeting the district’s goal of 100% graduation for all students.