Central Falls School District Serves as Exemplary Model for Family Leadership and Higher Education Institution Partnerships



Laura L. Hart
Rhode Island College
Director of College Communications and Marketing 

1041 PROVIDENCE – A new study from Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR) offers innovative measurement tools for family leadership and partnerships with higher education institutions, two critically important district-level collaborations essential to successful urban education transformation. The tools were created based on research in the resurgent Central Falls School District (CFSD) in Rhode Island.

According to AISR, a web of strong, overlapping collaborations between school systems, community institutions, higher education partners, and families is crucial to effective urban education reform, and the degree of collaboration across these multiple sectors determines to what extent educational options improve for all students. Despite the vital nature of these partnerships, the field lacks empirical evidence of best practices and clear indicators that partners can use to measure advancement and plan strategically.

“Schools and districts are not isolated entities,” state AISR research co-authors Joanna Geller and Sara McAlister. “Cross-sector collaborations that are intentional, aligned, and consistent with evidence-based practice play an essential role in urban school reform, but few tools exist to guide the development and ongoing maintenance of these important collaborations. The purpose of this research was to develop a practical set of indicators, or `yardsticks,’ that assess progress and highlight areas needing improvement.” 

The research was conducted in economically disadvantaged Central Falls, Rhode Island. While Central Falls and CFSD still face challenges, the district is in the midst of a remarkable turnaround.The centerpieces of the district's transformation are an partnership with Providence-based Rhode Island College (RIC), and major investments in family leadership.

The Higher Education–District Partnership Self-Assessment Rubric: An Indicator Tool examines an agreement between CFSD and RIC, a major pipeline for the state’s teacher candidates, to form a comprehensive “Innovation Lab” that engages the entire university and the entire district in experimentation and invention. Former CFSD Superintendent Fran Gallo believed that hands-on clinical experience in Central Falls schools would better prepare RIC students and faculty for the realities of urban education; equally, RIC leaders saw the potential to advance the college’s mission of preparing diverse school leaders and positively impacting the Ocean State’s economy and culture.

The report also provides a framework to help school systems and higher-education institutions to form effective partnerships grounded in community engagement, followed by a self-assessment rubric of indicators aligned to the framework, developed as a reflection tool for other districts and universities to strengthen their collaborations.

The Family Leadership Self-Assessment Rubric: An Indicator Tool for School Districts is based on the principle that educational opportunities for low-income students and students of color increase when families are actively engaged as leaders in system-wide reform. The report outlines a framework of concrete, actionable indicators for school systems and their partners to help them actively develop parent leadership, with CFSD’s work to build authentic family leadership as a case study. A self-assessment rubric of indicators, aligned to the framework, follows. 

“We believe the rubric will be a useful reflection tool for other districts in strengthening their own work to engage families as powerful leaders,” added the researchers.

The two rubrics were funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.