Background and History 

We are proud of the progress that we have made since our start in 2006, and we look forward to continued growth and service into the future.  We see our work as an investment in the students and families in Kent County. 

The notion of bringing services into schools is not new; the idea has been around since the turn of the century, when settlement house workers used the concept to help meet the needs of the influx of immigrants pouring into cities at the time, led by people like Jane Addams and John Dewey. Also, in the mid-1930s, "lighted schoolhouses" opened in Flint, Michigan, which used empty school buildings at night for student and family programming.  These schools, overseen by Charles S. Mott and Frank Manley, are often referred to as the earliest model for today's community schools.  Today, hundreds of community schools exist all over the country! 

In 2006, the Kent School Services Network began its work in eight pilot schools.  The KSSN initiative was led by the Kent County Family and Children's Coordinating Council.  The Council had conducted extensive research on school reform and integrated service delivery efforts around the country – including visiting a Children’s Aid Society community school in New York City.  The Council collaborated with key community partners, including county government, local foundations, county agencies, local healthcare organizations, the Kent ISD, and the United Way. The Children’s Aid Society and the National Center for Community Schools continued to provide technical assistance and training to KSSN for its first seven years of operation. 

In the 1990s, the Kent County Department of Health and Human Services and local companies undertook a strategic examination of dual generational poverty to uncover barriers associated with achieving financial independence and family stability. One of the solutions identified by this study was to place DHHS caseworkers in companies. This resulted in employees showing up for work consistently and on time, and successfully transitioning off welfare support. The success of this intervention was what led to the introduction of DHHS staff, now called Success Coaches, into KSSN schools, and it strengthened KSSN’s commitment to public-private partnerships. 

Kent County DHHS Success Coaches have been working in the KSSN schools since the very beginning. By placing human services staff in the schools, families are able to access social services there rather than at the county office. Success Coaches provide the professional guidance, support and interventions needed to help families move toward financial independence. This increases parental involvement, as parents become more comfortable in the schools, and feel supported by another adult helping them navigate the welfare system as well as the education system. 

KSSN also works closely with network180, the community mental health authority for Kent County. In 2010, network180 received a $6 million federal grant which allowed KSSN to expand and place mental health professionals in all schools, and offer behavioral health services year-round.  Three local mental health agencies began staffing Site Team Clinicians in the KSSN schools to provide screenings, outpatient and home-based therapy, and prevention groups.  These three agencies were also responsible for hiring KSSN Community School Coordinators.  

As it has expanded, KSSN has utilized a targeted universalism approach to reduce the inequities and disparities for the most vulnerable students in the Kent County area.  In 2013, the KSSN Leadership Team began working on building administrative, governance, and sustainability capacity to support the infrastructure of KSSN, and recommended a structure and governance redesign for the organization. On February 1, 2014, the community school coordinators became employees of the new KSSN entity.  KSSN went from being an initiative run largely out of the executive's director's kitchen to a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit.  Today, KSSN partners with 30 schools in eight school districts plus the Kent ISD, and serves 18,000 students from Pre-K through 12th grade. 


The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is now using KSSN as a model for an initiative called Pathways to Potential  to improve attendance and promote family financial stability by placing DHHS staff in close to 200 schools across the state. Pathways to Potential changes the way services are delivered to clients by placing these services in the places where clients are located.  Sound familiar? KSSN is being touted as an exemplary organization for building community school capacity in the state, decreasing chronic absence, and strategically working to reduce poverty.

In the fall of 2012, KSSN began formal, internal training for all new KSSN staff, principals, and community leaders. In addition, more than 150 people from across the state journeyed to West Michigan to learn from KSSN, including Governor Rick Snyder, key staff from Michigan Department of Health Human Services, Community Health, and Education, and representatives from Flint and Detroit Public Schools. KSSN staff, including principals, DHHS staff, community school coordinators, site team clinicians, and our executive director, have provided half-day and full-day overviews and trainings on the work of a community school. Pathways to Potential staff have attended a full-day Community School 101 training led by KSSN coordinators. North Godwin Elementary KSSN staff, including the principal, have also traveled to Detroit to present to principals and key Detroit Public Schools administrative staff on the work of a community school.

Carol Paine-McGovern, our Executive Director, recently worked with Jane Quinn from the Children’s Aid Society and its National Center for Community Schools (NCCS) on a successful grant request to the Mott Foundation to train Pathways to Potential staff. The Mott Foundation supported community schools in Flint in 1930, and the Foundation is interested in the success of Pathways and would like to reinvigorate the community school emphasis in Flint.  KSSN is now a sub-contractor with the NCCS. KSSN staff will partner with the NCCS through 2016 to do the following: 

  • Train community school coordinators working in the Pathways to Potential schools across the state through a Community School Coordinators Institute.
  • Provide on-site consultation and training at Pathways to Potential schools.
  • Develop a professional learning network based upon an electronic platform that NCCS has used with other statewide networks. 
  • Provide consultation to state government leaders and draw upon the national knowledge and experience of NCCS.  
You can learn more about the Pathways project and KSSN in Outcomes.