CIS in Tarrant County is part of a national network of CIS programs serving over 1.2 million students. CIS was founded in 1992 in Forth Worth as a result of a United Way Stay-In-School task force.
Understanding the Need and Complexity of the Solution - During 1990 and 1991 about 100 community volunteers working as part of a United Way Stay-In-School Task Force studied the dropout problem in Fort Worth ISD's two most seriously effected high schools. The longitudinal completion rate for these schools, comparing starting 9th grade students with those who graduated four years later, was less than 50%. Starting with an exhaustive review of national dropout prevention research, the two-year study concluded that students drop out of school, not because of any single reason, but because they become entangled in a web of problems. The list of issues might include poverty, low self-esteem, alcohol & drug abuse, gang involvement, family conflict, abuse, neglect, bullying, teen pregnancy, teen parenting, criminal justice involvement, violence, victimization, low educational expectations, poor health, homelessness, hopelessness, and other factors. Successful dropout prevention therefore, requires a holistic response to all these factors. The study further concluded that no school district or any other single organization could possibly address this array of concerns alone. Therefore, the dropout problem was not a school problem, but a community problem that could only be successfully addressed by the whole community working together. These conclusions precisely paralleled the national research and described exactly the values and mission of the national organization known as Communities In Schools which had recently captured the attention of the Governor and Texas Legislature. In 1986 the Texas Legislature began appropriating seed funding to replicate this innovative and successful model across Texas.
The Birth of Communities In Schools of Tarrant County - In the Fall of 1991, seventeen members of the original United Way Task Force came together to hear a presentation by the Communities In Schools (CIS) State Director. They confirmed that CIS was the solution that the Fort Worth community was seeking. They filed for 501 C (3) non-profit status.
Year One - On May 1, 1992 the new CIS program hired a Chief Executive and over the course of the next year, business operations were established, and four program staff delivered case management services to 200 students from the two high schools involved in the United Way study. Only three of the students dropped out leaving a stay-in-school success rate of over 98%. Progress toward the initial CIS goal of establishing program credibility was well under way.
United Way Partnership - After three years of United Way community initiative funding and successfully completing the United Way partnership review process, CIS Fort Worth was awarded United Way partnership status.
Selection As National Pilot Site - In the fall of 1995, CIS Fort Worth was selected as one of five national recipients of a five-year Department of Labor demonstration grant to implement a “Quantum Opportunities” pilot project at Paschal High School. This model, developed by the Ford Foundation, was a workforce-centered derivative of the CIS model which employed five case managers to serve 100 students for their entire high school career.
The First Five Years - Over the first five years, the number of schools doubled to four, then seven, then eight, then nine. By the end of the fifth year, CIS program credibility had been clearly established. Throughout this growth, stay-in-school success rates stayed consistently above 98%.
Beyond Fort Worth - In 1997 and 1998, as the CIS program expanded from nine to twelve, then eighteen schools, CIS established programs in Everman ISD and Arlington ISD. This prompted the historic change in name from Communities In Schools Fort Worth to Communities In Schools of Greater Tarrant County.
Characteristics of the Mature Program - Fully implementing the concept of Licensed Social Workers operating the CIS model from inside schools takes time, but creates a new way of doing business for the whole social service community. Rather than asking troubled students to seek out the help they so badly need from a confusing variety of disconnected agencies throughout the community, the help goes to the students where they are........at school. The Tarrant County social service and health community has responded eagerly to this opportunity. Each year over 80 CIS service provider partners bring their programs to CIS schools.
In the 15th year of operation in 2007, Mike Steele, the founding executive of CIS in Tarrant County was named Chief Executive of the Year by the CIS state office in Austin. In 2014 CIS was named by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce as one of the top three best workplaces for women among mid-sized Fort Worth companies.
Research – In December 2008 results of an independent research study conducted by ICF International and funded by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) documented the results of dropout prevention programs all over America. Only 21 programs had independent research confirming their results in prevention dropouts and increasing graduation rates. Of those 21, only Communities In Schools had research proving that it both lowered dropout rates and increased graduation rates. The study also noted the CIS was the least expensive of the 21, that it was scalable and that schools with CIS programs experienced reduced teacher turnover.
Today, as we celebrate our 25th anniversary – CIS is the only single-purpose stay-in-school program in Tarrant County. Based on consistent and predictable outcomes school districts now pay at least half of the cost for their CIS programs. CIS now serves 8 school districts in Tarrant and Parker counties and 47 schools. The number of students intensively case managed is about 4,300 and CIS is touching the lives of over 35,000 students annually. Demand for new CIS programs from school districts now outstrips CIS’s capacity to raise the needed matching funding while maintaining all existing sites. Also, the CIS supporting Foundation celebrated its one million dollar milestone. The Foundation’s mission is to sustain CIS for our community for as long as it is needed.
Mike Steele, the founding Chief Executive retired after 25 years of service in May 2017 and Lindsey Garner, former Chief Operations Officer, has taken the helm.