KILLEEN, Texas (FOX 44) – Communities In Schools (CIS) of Greater Central Texas is marking its 30th year of service of helping students stay in school.

The non-profit organization says it was founded to provide a positive impact on children’s lives by helping them overcome obstacles affecting their abilities to achieve and to continue school. CIS is the only non-profit organization permanently housed on school campuses.

The organization began operations locally in 1993, and originally provided services to one school district. It now serves 60 campuses in six independent school districts – Killeen, Copperas Cove, Temple, Belton, Salado and Jarrell. The organization has grown from serving 1,500 students in 1995 to serving more than 6,100 students today. Ever since its 20-year service mark in 2013, CIS has helped nearly 45,200 students.

Executive Director Michael Dewees noted the organization’s purpose is to improve student achievement, decrease the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate, “Our site directors and case managers provide academic, behavioral, attendance and social service support to empower success for all students which help remove barriers for vulnerable students at risk of dropping out. Most importantly, the trusting relationship between the student and CIS site coordinator is key. Without trust, there cannot be a meaningful relationship, and without this relationship, necessary services to the student and their family cannot be determined nor achieved.”

The organization says that in accordance with the Texas Education Code, local CIS programs establish performance targets in the areas of academic achievement, attendance, behavior, dropout rates, graduation and promotion/retention. The most recent numbers from the 2021-22 school year indicate 89.5 percent of students improved academically, 70.24 percent improved in behavior, 61 percent improved in attendance, 95 percent of the students were promoted, 98 percent of eligible students graduated and 100 percent stayed in school.

CIS also provided social services to nearly 99 percent of its students. This included assistance with clothing, shoes, food, shelter, school supplies and financial assistance for the family.

“Oftentimes, the issues of academics, behavior and attendance are directly related to personal or family issues a child is experiencing,” said Dewees. “A large part of our responsibilities is to help the student understand, cope with and manage these challenges in order to find solutions. When we are able to help students improve in areas outside of school, they are able to learn, grow and improve in school-related areas.”

The local CIS chapter is achieving these results with less money and less staff than its counterparts in larger metropolitan areas which are able to secure bigger budgets and larger funding.

“We rely quite heavily on grants, financial support from our local school districts, donations and other funding sources to supplement state funding,” said Dewees. “In addition to our local fundraisers, we are fortunate for the generosity of the community and our business partners to donate clothing, shoes, hygiene, food and numerous other items to meet the needs of the children in our program.”

During Dewees’ 22 years with CIS, with his last ten years as executive director, he noted the need for CIS continues to grow, “More and more youth are struggling, for whatever reason, and are in need of the kind of support CIS offers. The reasons can be anything from the residual effects of the pandemic, numerous family military deployments and separations and the higher costs of living placed on families nowadays.”

Dewees credits the strong relationship with the school districts, which allows CIS to further assist students in need, “CIS has a wonderful relationship with the six school districts we serve. The districts realize our role and the importance of the work we do for students and families in need. As we work diligently helping students overcome their many challenges and keeping them in school, we are building the foundations for a stronger and vital community, now and into the future. This is a common goal and mission we share with our partnering school districts.”

The organization says that while the world has changed a lot since the inception of the local CIS program, the basic needs of students have not changed.

Cyd West is the Senior Vice President of First Community Mortgage. He is an original Board Member of CIS, as well as its longest-serving Board member.

“The problems and challenges of attendance, behavior, food insecurity, parental involvement and homelessness largely remain the same,” said West. “And while the CIS staff is equipped to meet those needs, the staff undergoes continuous training to remain aware and stay connected with the ever-changing needs of today’s at-risk youth. The organization has always been committed to do whatever it takes to keep kids in school. As a founding member I am very proud of the longevity and success of the program and the many lives it has touched.”