Communities In Schools National President Dan Cardinali
By Briana Kerensky, Communities In Schools National Office
In February, Communities In Schools released the results of a comprehensive, five-year evaluation aimed at determining the effectiveness of the organization’s work. The results of the study validated Communities In Schools’ mission and provided valuable insight into the work needed to be done to make dropout prevention a success. But what does it all mean? Communities In Schools President Dan Cardinali breaks down the value of the five-year evaluation’s results for the organization, for students and for nonprofits at large.
Why did Communities In Schools decide to conduct a five-year evaluation?
When we started the evaluation, Communities In Schools had been around for about 30 years and we wanted to know if we were actively making a difference. We had about $200 million in grants and we felt a great deal of accountability to our funders to make sure we were successful. We were working with about 900,000 kids at the time, and of course we felt accountable to them as well. We say that Communities In Schools’ relationships with students are transformative, so we wanted to validate that.
What do the results mean for the students Communities In Schools works with?
Once we know what an effective practice is, we are morally obliged to push that practice. Would you give a child the wrong dosage of medicine when you know what the right dosage is? The mandate is clear.
What can other nonprofit organizations take away from the evaluation results?
An evaluation can be very constructive, but nonprofits sometimes dread them for two reasons:
1. They’re expensive.
2. They often have an “I gotcha” feeling, like you’re looking for an organization’s faults.
But really, evaluations are a constructive experience. Communities In Schools’ five-year evaluation has enabled us to live our mission with fidelity and clarity. It’s made us more effective at achieving our mission.
What does the five-year evaluation mean for the future of Communities In Schools?
We now have a road map for what the Communities In Schools model looks like, and we can make sure it is routinely employed in communities in which we work and as we develop new affiliates.
When we were first building the affiliates, there was a lot of creativity. But there was also a lot of “inventing the wheel” every time. Now, with the five-year evaluation, Communities In Schools has the core elements in place. We can still be creative, but we’re not reinventing the wheel every time we build an affiliate.
What about the five-year evaluation are you most proud of?
I’m proud of a lot of things! But one thing that makes me proud is that we had a committee who spent two years designing the evaluation, and then guided the evaluation over the five-year period. It was made up of internal leadership, who are dropout prevention practitioners. But it was also made up of national experts who are luminaries in the area of dropout prevention. Together they provided guidance and a critical eye, and also managed to keep our evaluation practical. So our final product is a combination of the rigor of academics and the reality of what dropout prevention is. This makes our study important at a local, state and federal level.