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Transforming Communities: Inside Tucson’s Restart SMART Schools

By: Rae Joseph, Research and Policy Specialist

The community school strategy aims to enhance student learning by transforming both the community and school environment to be more resourceful, engaging, and supportive. Community schools offer various services such as after-school and summer enrichment, family engagement, health resources, and strategies to overcome barriers to learning. These schools also provide early childhood education, adult education, and community events to address diverse family needs, ultimately striving to improve learning opportunities for students and enhance community wellness.

Higher Ground’s Restart SMART is a customized version of the community schools model, implemented in seven schools across Tucson. These schools were identified based on high-risk factors, such as chronic absenteeism. Tailored to community needs, Restart SMART focuses on being Strategic, Mindful, Agile and Aware, Resilient, and Trauma-Responsive. Each school has a dedicated team integrating life skill development, trauma-responsive practices, and executive function support. Restart SMART collaborates with community organizations to provide resources for students and families, emphasizing non-academic needs, enabling teachers and principals to concentrate on delivering high-quality education.

Higher Ground has been able to transform schools based on the specific needs of the community.  Schools have experienced:
● Academic success
● Healthy students (physically, emotionally, and socially)
● Active family involvement in children’s education
● Increased attendance and decrease in chronically absent students
● Fewer logged discipline incidents

Undoubtedly, Higher Ground’s efforts and ability to help transform these schools is a tremendous benefit to the Tucson community!  Here are some of the accomplishments that have occurred at the seven Tucson Restart SMART schools over the past few years.


  • Arizona State Letter Grade Increase (2019-2023):  D to C
  • 86% Decrease in disruptive behavior


  • Arizona State Letter Grade Increase (2019-2023):  D to C
  • 86% Average attendance rate


  • 39% Decrease in chronic absenteeism since last year
  • 75% Decrease in minor-to-minor aggression


  • Arizona State Letter Grade Increase (2019-2023):  F to C
  • 78% Reduction of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use among students in caseload


  • Arizona State Letter Grade Increase (2019-2023):  F to B
  • 89% Reduction of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use among students in caseload


  • Arizona State Letter Grade Increase (2019-2023):  C to B
  • 90% Average attendance rate


  • Arizona State Letter Grade Increase (2019-2023):  D to B
  • 9% Decrease in chronic absenteeism

Unique to Restart SMART is the use of Data-Powered Strategic Coaching Methods, which involves a documentation and interaction system. This system tracks student progress, sets goals, provides services, and continuously improves methods based on community feedback. The approach relies on four pillars of community schools: integrated student support, collaborative leadership, active family and student engagement, and extended learning time and opportunities. This has resulted in numerous positive outcomes, including academic success, increased attendance, and decreased discipline incidents.

To further enhance support, Higher Ground is developing the BeMapt™ app, currently in beta-testing. This scalable solution builds on the Restart SMART method, allowing youth to drive their success by documenting progress and offering continuous and responsive care. The app collects data from various sources, including interviews, schools, and partner organizations, to tailor personalized services and support based on the individual’s needs. BeMapt™ aims to empower youth, promote wellness, and eliminate limitations of space, location, or access.

Restart SMART’s commitment to prioritizing youth, family, and community needs through personalized support is evident in its innovative approach. To connect with Restart SMART and learn more about the schools involved, resources offered, and their specific locations, visit the Higher Ground website.

To learn more about these schools and view all seven Restart SMART school sites on MySchoolsTucson locator, click here.