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Understanding California's Community Partnerships for Systems Change Framework

In the last section, we learned about state efforts to make resource distribution and accountability systems more equitable. In this section, participants will learn about California’s Community Partnerships for Systems Change framework. Specifically, participants will:

  • Build understanding of the Community Partnerships for Systems Change (CPSC) framework 
  • Identify how the CPSC framework can help guide individual, collective, and systemic capacity building for transformative community partnerships in your LEA
  • Interact with elements of participatory systems change in action and consider how your LEA might adapt these elements

Even when individual leaders have the best intentions, child-, youth-, and family-serving agencies are heavily influenced by top-down approaches. As a result of this structure, decision-making processes frequently exclude the input of the people who are most impacted by inequitable systems, which creates large gaps in the full picture of local assets, experiences, priorities, and opportunities. California’s Community Partnerships for Systems Change (CPSC) framework calls upon leaders to interrupt business as usual by partnering with communities at every step of the change cycle in order to share power for collective action. The CPSC framework is grounded in the idea that engaging in a collective process of continuous inquiry and reflection will reveal opportunities to disrupt systemic inequity while building individual, collective, and systemic capacities for transformative community engagement.

Reflection Activity – Traditional Systems Change Versus CPSC

Take some time to review the table below and distinguish between traditional systems change paradigms and community partnerships for systems change. Which of these paradigms does your school or district tend to fall into when it comes to systems change efforts?

Traditional Systems Change Community Partnerships for Systems Change
Top-down decision-making
Shared power
Outside Experts
One size fits all
Emphasizing Eurocentric/dominant culture and norms
Culturally responsive
Building individual and collective capacities for participation
Information on processes and progress are inaccessible
Transparency, accessibility, feedback loops

Reflection Activity Continuum of Participation 

Participatory systems change efforts can be understood by their location on the Continuum of Participation, as illustrated in Figure X. Traditional approaches often position young people and their families as clients or beneficiaries of school services and resources (Ishimaru, 2014). This model is situated in the domain of non-participation, as education systems expect community members to support discrete, predetermined activities or serve as decoration at events or meetings. A common example of non-participation is when school leaders request that students and families join an organizing campaign event or a school board meeting to demonstrate diversity, connection with the community, and/or broad support for a cause without providing them with an active, meaningful role in planning these campaigns or meetings (Hart, 1992).

Tokenism occurs when members of a community are placated to appease their concerns. This can look like schools dictating the role and frequency of family involvement in efforts to approve school site plans or budgets, without providing community members an opportunity to play an active part in determining school priorities, needs, and strategies. 

Degrees of participation include when students, families, and community partners are involved in committees and advisories to inform decisions; when members of a community hold leadership roles on governing bodies and participate in shared decision-making; and when they co-lead change efforts and have shared or full decision-making and leadership power (Californians for Justice, n.d.). This might look like students serving on school boards or families participating as representatives on district advisory committees or strategic planning task forces.


  • Manipulate: Community members are manipulated into supporting causes that were not inspired by them.
  • Decorate: Community members are treated as decoration at events and in communications materials to bolster a cause.

Tokenism & Extraction

  • Placate: Community members are placated with space and promises to appease their concerns.
  • Inform: Community members are provided information, assigned roles, and informed about how and why they are involved.
  • Consult: Community members are asked for their input, informed about how their input will be used, and told the decisions that are made based on their input.

Degrees of Participation

  • Involve: Community members are engaged in bidirectional communication with system leaders and and involved in committees and advisories to help inform decisions.
  • Collaborate: Community members hold leadership roles on committees and governance bodies and participate in shared decision-making with system leaders.
  • Lead Together: Community members co-lead change efforts with system leaders and have shared or fu

Connecting to the California Community Schools Framework 

The California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP) represents an important opportunity in the state’s approach to reimagining schools and districts in partnership with educators, students, families, and community-based organizations. The CCSPP defines a  community school as “any school serving pre-Kindergarten through high school students using a whole child approach, with an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement.” (CDE CCSP, State Transformational Assistance Center).

Family and community engagement is a core pillar in the state’s Community Schools Framework, which emphasizes how the expertise of community members is key to supporting students and creating structures for shared leadership. Another core pillar, collaborative leadership and practices, is essential to establishing collective trust and shared responsibility for community experiences and outcomes.

Ishimaru, A. (2014). Rewriting the rules of engagement: Elaborating a model of district-community collaboration. Harvard Educational Review, 84(2), 188-216.

Hart, R. A. (1992). Children’s participation: From tokenism to citizenship. UNICEF.

Californians for Justice. Student Voice Continuum.

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