Building Capacity for the Continuous Improvement of Health-Promoting Schools

By Hoyle, Tena B.; Samek, Beverly B. et al. | Journal of School Health, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Building Capacity for the Continuous Improvement of Health-Promoting Schools


Hoyle, Tena B., Samek, Beverly B., Valois, Robert F., Journal of School Health


A school district's capacity can be defined as its potential ability to sustain itself at a high level of performance, ensuring teachers' ability to teach and students' ability to benefit from the educational process. (1-6) Capacity building has been defined in the school improvement literature as a series of "actions that lead to an increase in the collective power of a group to improve student achievement" (1(p14) and "the ability of the education system to help all students meet more challenging standards." (1(p4)) What is proposed throughout the literature is shared responsibility of the educational community and the public to ensure the capacity of the organization and individuals within the organization to succeed, putting in place the necessary supports so that schools can accomplish their academic mission. (1-4) Ultimately, schools must prepare all students to "maximize their potential, to contribute to the common good, and to live a full and rewarding life," (5(p36)) thereby enabling "all students to achieve as much of their creative, intellectual, and social potential as possible" and preparing them "to live successfully and contribute actively in their communities" (6(p358)--leaving no child behind.

The federal mandate and the political will that no child be left behind is a commendable disposition. (7) Public schools should be accountable for promoting the potential of all students to achieve future success. However, this accountability must be preceded by responsibility--a shared responsibility of the educational community and the public to ensure the capacity of the organization as well as the individuals within the organization to succeed. (2,8)

Traditionally, school improvement efforts, including No Child Left Behind, are based on the assumption that students come to school equally "ready to learn" every day of the school year. Often, reform efforts make no accommodation for building the capacity of schools as a foundation for addressing students' health issues as potential barriers to learning. (9) Creating health-promoting schools through implementation of Coordinated School Health Programs (CSHP) and services has been proposed as an efficient and effective means to improve both the health and the education of Americans. (l0-12) Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO), through its Global Health Initiative, seeks to increase the number of health-promoting schools, which they describe as schools that are "constantly" strengthening (their) capacity as a healthy setting for living, learning and working." (13) The WHO further describes a health-promoting school with the capacity to provide and sustain this "healthy setting" in the following way:

   A health-promoting school is a place where all members of the
   school community work together to provide students with integrated
   and positive experiences and structures which promote and protect
   their health.... Health-promoting schools need to be set up in a
   way which ensures that positive changes are sustained.... For this
   reason the proposed approach is to develop policies, practices and
   structures which embed the fundamentals of a health-promoting
   school into a school's operation. (14(p2))

According to Wixson, a leading author in curriculum and assessment, organizational capacity can be increased by enhancing the capabilities of the workers; by adding resources; and by restructuring the ways in which work is organized and services are delivered. Additionally, she states that the dimensions of capacity include vision and leadership; collective commitment and cultural norms to realize the vision; knowledge and access to knowledge; organizational structures and management conducive to improvement; adequate resources; and an infusion of external ideas, assistance, and support to move beyond current practice. (2)

The purpose of this case study was to examine Pueblo, Colorado School District 60, and its efforts to develop, continuously improve, and sustain health promotion in the school community. …

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