Building meaningful partnerships
July 28, 2009
More and more educators are realizing that they cannot help all students achieve high standards without involvement and help from parents and other members of the community.
Business and industry depend on the public education system to produce a reliable and competent work force. Educators are finding that they cannot address the needs of students all by themselves. Active commitment to work together by educators, parents, business people and others from throughout the community is the logical answer to this dilemma.
Here are the basic steps for building partnerships between businesses and schools:
Start small. Think about using a pilot program at one or two schools to test your ideas for the best type of partnerships for your school district/ESD/community college. Choose schools that want to partner with a community group or business and involve staff at that school in the planning. This will give you a "testing ground" for future partnerships and will help other schools begin to see the advantages of partnerships. Think of your first partnerships as a "pilot program" and keep an open mind for changing them as needed.
Awareness is the first step in any communications program. People in schools and the business community need to begin thinking about partnerships and the possibilities. As with any communications program, awareness is the first step toward getting action. Informing people in the schools and businesses that you are considering a partnership program opens the door for discussion. It is important to deliver the message many times and in many ways. Communications research shows it takes delivering a message at least seven different ways and seven times in order for most people to hear it and take advantage of it. The first step in launching a partnership, or any other public relations program, is to talk and write about it. Be sure businesses hear this idea at an early stage and are in the conversation from the very beginning.
Involve potential key partners in the planning. Involve the potential partners in every step of the planning. Representatives of the business community and other potential partners will want to work with you to plan your partnership program. Involving them at an early stage, listening to their ideas and concerns and treating them like true, equal partners from the very beginning will pay big benefits in the form of meaningful, productive partnerships. Both partners will have "ownership" of the program and a vested interest in making it work.
One way to do this is to form a school-community partnership task force that includes wide representation of potential partners. This group can act as a steering committee for your partnership program.
Look at needs of both parties. Examine district goals and priorities and the main goals and priorities of potential partners. If the district or school goal is to improve student achievement in mathematics, think about partnerships with businesses or organizations with resources that can help the school reach that goal. Talk to potential business partners about their needs and their goals for their businesses and the schools. They may want high achievement in mathematics as much as you do. Once that mutual need is identified, it is matter of finding out how the parties can work together to achieve the mutual goal.
Identify potential resources for both parties. Make lists of the people, materials, equipment and money available in the schools, district, businesses and other agencies to meet the needs that have been identified. Determine how resources will be used effectively to meet top priorities and how decisions will be made about resources.
Establish goals and priorities for the program. Successful partnerships are focused on a few priorities. You need a broad statement of purpose and specific desired outcomes for the partnership. You can’t take on everything, so you need to sort out the "wouldn’t it be nice if" type of ideas and set them aside. This may be difficult because one of the parties may have a creative idea that would be innovative and fun to carry out; however, if it won’t achieve your main goals or priorities, you can’t afford to pursue it.
With today’s emphasis on school reform and higher student achievement, your partnership may want to take on one thing such as reading achievement, career education, improving attendance, improving math scores, providing extended learning opportunities outside of the normal school day, or providing arts enrichment for all students.
Be specific about the jobs that need to be done and furnish descriptions. Potential community partners want to know specifically what schools need. They want job descriptions that include resources they are expected to contribute, including time their employees will spend on the partnership, and, if applicable, duration of the project. They want to know the specific goals of the partnership and how the success of the partnership will be measured.
Design a unique program and tailor it to your community. The most successful partnerships are designed to fit the needs and resources of the community where they are located. They may have looked at other successful partnerships and gleaned ideas from them, but they are planned to fit the community where they are located.
Set up a system to manage the program. Define the administrative structure for your partnership program. It will need to be staffed by people who are designated to take on that responsibility and be accountable for its success. This should be discussed by all parties and agreements reached about how the program will be administered and managed and the rules under which it will operate.
Plan for the implementation phases. Plan how you will recruit the people and resources needed to make the partnership successful. After people are recruited, it is important to match their skills and interests with specific jobs that need to be done. It will also be important to provide orientation and training to prepare staff members for their roles and involvement in the program. As schools are matched with community partners, establish agreements about the goals for each school partnership, what each party will contribute and how success will be measured. Be sure to write down these plans and identify contact people for each group involved in the partnership.
Plan up front how you will evaluate the success of the program. It is critical that you monitor and evaluate your partnership program. You will want to ask if the partnership is achieving its original goals. Is it reaching the students you wanted to reach in the ways you wanted them reached? You will need to judge the worth of the program against the original goals of the program and alter the program if it needs it. In some cases, you may need to analyze why the program is not working and be willing to drastically change it or even discard it in favor of another program.
Adapted from OSBA’s PR In Action, a communication subscription service for Oregon schools.
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