Building Equitable Futures: The Relationship between the EL Roadmap and Community Schools in California

June 28, 2024
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Building Equitable Futures: The Relationship between the EL Roadmap and Community Schools in California

By Anya Hurwitz, Ed.D, Executive Director, SEAL, and Hayin Kimner, Managing Director, CA Community Schools Learning Exchange (CSLX)

Despite post-COVID challenges and economic uncertainties, education leaders and state lawmakers have made enduring commitments to building educational equity and improving academic outcomes for all students. Nonetheless, for many school districts even with new policies and initiatives, and dedicated funding, the path forward is not without its hurdles.

The Community Schools initiative in California has been the biggest recent multi-year statewide investment. More than just a strategy to coordinate student support resources, community schools aim to offer a cohesive approach to fostering differentiated, inclusive, and equitable teaching and learning environments. California is investing an unprecedented  $4.1 billion in the California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP), sending seed funding to districts and schools to build systems that more actively engage students, families and educators in a shared approach to school and student success. This funding aims to catalyze the transformation of education and child-serving systems. 

Meanwhile in 2017, California took a significant step forward by passing the English Learner Roadmap (EL Roadmap)–inspirational, research-based policy that supports schools and educators to advance academic success by building high quality, equitable learning environments for English Learners. The EL Roadmap lays out a systems-wide, comprehensive set of structures and practices, emphasizing student- and relationship-centered structures and practices, inclusivity and belonging. While the EL Roadmap has gained traction with local education agencies (LEA) across the state, it hasn’t come tied to a pot of money, like a grant program or other budget allocation for district and/or school implementation.

At SEAL, we’ve been asking ourselves– what is the relationship between the EL Roadmap and Community Schools and how do they intersect? First let’s consider, what exactly is a Community School? This is what our friends at CSLX say– A community school is a public school committed to a holistic approach to learning, engaging the entire community—students, families, educators, and community partners—to cultivate supportive, equitable learning environments rooted in culture, inclusivity, rigor, and relevance. The hallmarks of the strategy are not just about the services and supports that child- and family-serving partners might offer. Rather, a community school reflects a set of student-centered, relationship-centered structures and practices, emphasizing inclusivity and belonging. Sound familiar? 

If schools and districts fully embrace the implementation of EL Roadmap, they will be implementing a high quality, student-centered Community School strategy. A Community School commits to a whole child, whole-community approach to learning. Community Schools leverage the resources of the whole community – students, families, educators, and community partners – to build relationship-centered, supportive, and equitable school communities where learning is culturally-rooted, inclusive, rigorous, and relevant. And therefore language and culture must be central since they are so much a part of the WHOLE child and WHOLE community.

When we center language and cultural diversity and inclusivity in our beliefs AND in our school and classroom practices, we are building community schools (even in the absence of a grant!). Language is a powerful vehicle to build a rich, vibrant, inclusive community. When we center language we center connection and connectivity. When we honor home languages other than English, and do so in our systems and practices at the school and classroom levels, we create the foundation for a strong and thriving pluralistic community and society.

So what’s the relationship between the EL Roadmap and Community Schools and how do they intersect? It is less of an intersection, and more of a mutually interdependent set of practices. Together, the two present a compelling opportunity for progress, and also raise questions about potential conflicts, incoherence, and unintended consequences. Some districts recognize that the CCSPP is a means to deepen their implementation of the EL Roadmap. Others worry that it may divert attention and resources away from their essential priorities, such as language and biliteracy development.

To gain insight into these complex dynamics, we spoke with two SEAL district partners in the field—both committed to implementing equitable and evidence-based practices for English Learners, Multilingual Learners, and all students. Their perspectives shed light on the challenges and opportunities inherent in California's educational landscape and highlight the ongoing quest for excellence and equity in our schools.

A Central Valley Story

Delhi Unified School District (DUSD) is situated in an unincorporated rural area in Merced County with a population over 12,000. The District serves the community with TK-12 Schools. The language assets of Delhi Unified are 42% English Learners of which their primary language is Spanish. Delhi Unified serves 82% of Socioeconomically Disadvantaged students with 75% speaking a language other than English. The school district offers Dual Language Immersion with around 50% of students in TK-8 grades enrolled and going through the Dual Language Pathway towards the Seal of Biliteracy.

Superintendent Jose Miguel Kubes recalls the initial allure of the grant, its promise of financial backing for Community School. Like many districts, DUSD eagerly explored the opportunity. However, at close inspection – the diminishing funds in subsequent rounds meant challenging their current initiatives and goals of sustainability. As they discussed the pros and cons, a pivotal realization emerged – at its core, DUSD is already a Community School district and their focus on the EL Roadmap is their guiding framework. 

“We are already the first line for many of our students. We’re the first line of healthcare. The first line of food services. The first line of social emotional support,” said Superintendent Kubes.

The Community Schools grant, Kubes shared, while tempting, raised questions about the long-term viability of the initiatives it would fund. Rather than chasing after fleeting funds, the district opted for a different approach: doubling down on existing strengths and resources such as an amplified partnership with SEAL to establish their research- and evidence-based approach to advancing the educational outcomes of multilingual learners, establishing AVID as a guiding framework for college and career readiness, enhancing extended learning opportunities through a robust internal Expanded Learning Opportunities Program, and using the past two years as a  thorough needs assessment of the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) to better strategically align resources and initiatives that ensure that our operational and instructional programs work together as part of a comprehensive Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model.

 “So instead of placing energy on developing a department to facilitate these grant initiatives that will go away and resources that will go away, we were just going to take a hard pause and double down on what we're currently doing,” Kubes said.

Central to this shift in mindset was redefining the role of the LCAP. Instead of viewing it as a compliance document, the district is embracing it as a roadmap for growth and progress. This paradigm shift allowed for targeted investments aligned with the district's overarching goals, ensuring maximum impact with available funds. 

 Delhi Unified School District has embarked on an ambitious journey toward continuous improvement and excellence, as evidenced by their revamped LCAP for the 2024-25 academic year. By embracing the Improvement Science approach, they're demonstrating a commitment to iterative progress through the Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) cycle, which allows for ongoing refinement based on evidence and feedback.

Utilizing the EL Roadmap as a monitoring tool reflects the district's focus on English learner achievement and systemic change. This strategic use of resources ensures that efforts are targeted and aligned with the overarching goal of enhancing educational outcomes for all students.

The decision to adopt SEAL at the elementary level underscores the district's dedication to evidence-based practices that support language development and academic success. Building on the foundation laid through the Emerging Bilingual Collaborative grant, the district is poised for full implementation to make a significant impact on student learning.

Effective communication and collaboration with educational stakeholders are paramount to success. By engaging various forums and stakeholders, including the District English Learner Advisory Committee, English Learner Advisory Committee, School Services of California, and unions, the district ensures that all voices are heard, and there is a shared understanding of the vision and goals outlined in the LCAP. This transparent and inclusive approach fosters buy-in and collective ownership, essential elements for sustainable improvement efforts

“We spent the last year and a half leveraging the work,” shared Kubes. “And now we have some momentum, and we have some traction. And sometimes when you go after a grant like Community Schools, then you might lose your traction. You might lose that momentum because it takes you off that course. We're on course right now and we're loving it.”

The decision to forgo the grant was not without its uncertainties. Superintendent Kubes candidly acknowledges the discomfort of turning down significant funding. Yet, beneath the surface lay a bedrock of clarity and purpose – a commitment to building a sustainable educational system resilient to the ebb and flow of grant cycles.

Reflecting on their journey, Superintendent Kubes offers a cautionary tale to fellow educators. Grants, while enticing, can sometimes lead down paths divergent from long-term sustainability and coherence. True progress lies in understanding and maximizing existing resources, fostering a culture of enduring excellence.

DUSD may have opted out of the Community School grant, but in doing so, they have embraced a future defined by clarity, resilience, and sustainable growth. And in the ever-evolving landscape of education, perhaps that is the greatest reward of all.

“Today, we have a lot of clarity,” Kubes said. “Everything that we're looking to do is really to establish a culture that will last forever.”

Azusa Unified School District 

Nestled in the heart of Southern California, the Azusa Unified School District (AUSD) serves nearly 7,000 students and includes eight elementary, one middle, and two high schools, as well as an Adult School and Alternative Education School.

When applying for their CCSPP grant, Norma Carvajal-Camacho, Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services for AUSD, recognized that it was an opportunity to further advance the EL Roadmap and their key strategies around  professional development and instructional capacity building, in partnership with SEAL. AUSD is a recipient of CCSPP and has taken intentional steps to ensure their implementation integrates with the EL Roadmap’s four principles to guide their programs for multilingual learners. Camacho emphasized the importance of intentional alignment between initiatives to avoid fragmentation and ensure that all stakeholders understand the interconnectedness of the work.

“One of the first things we looked at [with CCSPP] was actually the correlation with the [EL] Roadmap and then SEAL,” said Camacho. “We created a kind of a crosswalk with the three. Our Director of Community Schools really looked at where they intersected.”

Camacho also shared the unique needs of English learners, including long-term English Learners and newcomers, and how the district was working to support them. She emphasized the importance of specifically addressing the diverse needs of different English Learner populations.

 "We've been very intentional about not saying 'globally English learners' but being specific about the students we're addressing to ensure we meet their needs effectively," she said.

Coordinating efforts is not so simple, Camacho shared. She noted that their planning began with a strong foundation, thanks to SEAL-trained teachers who understand the EL Roadmap and its articulation of four pillars that support EL students. However, Camacho acknowledged that there are still gaps in some schools, highlighting the crucial need for clear communications in ensuring alignment across the district. She stressed the importance of providing clarity and support to all stakeholders so that everyone understands the intended model and its purpose.

“We are now a community school,” said Camacho.  “We really tried to be intentional about the connections and how there is alignment between those three big initiatives that we are implementing. Along with our LCAP and being even more intentional about where we see community schools, and with our SEAL model.”


Whether districts choose to double down on existing strategic frameworks or pursue new opportunities, the ultimate goal remains the same: fostering equitable, inclusive, and culturally responsive learning environments.

The journey of Delhi Unified School District underscores the importance of clarity, purpose, and sustainable growth. By leveraging existing strengths and aligning resources with overarching goals, they demonstrate a commitment to long-term excellence and equity.

As exemplified by Azusa Unified School District, the integration of new initiatives with established frameworks can further enhance educational outcomes for all students, particularly multilingual learners. Intentional alignment, clear communication, and stakeholder engagement are key to successful implementation and ensuring that all efforts are cohesive and impactful.

Ultimately, the path forward for California’s educational landscape is paved with both challenges and opportunities. When we center language and cultural diversity and inclusivity in our beliefs AND in our district, school and classroom practices, we are inherently building community schools. Language is a powerful and necessary vehicle to build a rich, vibrant, inclusive community. When we honor home languages other than English and do so in our systems and practices at the school and classroom levels, we are strengthening relationships, creating spaces for belonging, and building a strong foundation for a strong and thriving community and society.



CSLX is a SEAL partner and works directly with districts, municipal agencies, community-based organizations, and the state-wide system of support to build and strengthen community school strategies. Image used for this blog was created by CSLX via For CCSPP support contact CSLX!

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