Public, Private Schools Form New Partnerships

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Philadelphia--Despite the aura of conflict generated by debate over such issues as vouchers, tuition tax credits, desegregation, and elitism, a small but growing number of useful partnerships are being forged between the public and private sectors of education.

For example:

Two private-school students from opposite sides of the continent have spent part of this school year participating in a specialized program in agriculture at a regional public high school in rural Quinter, Kans.

Also this year, a teacher from a public high school in New York City traveled to a private preparatory school in California to help the school's faculty develop a sex-education program. And a teacher at a suburban New York private school spent a month as a guest faculty member at a public community school on a Navajo reservation in Arizona.

Students in suburban St. Louis's private Community School are regularly paired off with counterparts from the public inner-city Jefferson School for joint classes and field trips.

Academically elite Milton Academy in Massachusetts is opening its campus to outstanding public- and parochial-school students from across the state for advanced courses in computer technology, science, literature, and the arts.

In Washington, D.C., public- and private-school students are meeting together for studies in urban law.

A joint program of the private Kincaid School in Houston and the city's public schools is encouraging students to pursue careers in engineering.

Proponents of such joint ventures, some of which were begun more than a decade ago, readily acknowledge that the handful of successful collaborative efforts neither dispels the current climate of competition between the two sectors nor allays the suspicions of many public-school administrators that private schools' involvement represents a "Lady Bountiful" or "noblesse oblige" attitude toward public education.

But they argue that interactions between public and private schools are beneficial for students and faculty in both sectors. And they point to the support for such efforts given by corporations, foundations, and the government as an indication that proposals to expand the avenues of collaboration may find additional enthusiastic backers.

As a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Schools puts it: "Public and private schools need each other." Although the association, which counts among its more than 800 members the leading independent schools in the country, has supported a federal program of tax credits for parents of private-school students, it has alsobeen a prime mover behind efforts at closer cooperation between the two sectors.

Sharing Support Services

To some extent, participants in collaborative activities note, schools in many states have been sharing support services such as student transportation, textbooks, and psychological testing programs all along. Contact between the schools, however, has been at the administrative, rather than student or teacher, level. The emerging collaborative efforts, they suggest, involve all three groups.

Stepping across traditional lines, public- and private-school officials say, has provided opportunities to share resources and faculty members, to make use of facilties during summer months, and to expand course offerings. But a more important outcome, private-school leaders in particular believe, has been the chance to improve community relations.

The polarization of public opinion that is occurring over the question of tuition tax credits is a source of discomfort for many private-school educators, and they welcome participation in collaborative efforts with public schools as a way of mitigating their schools' image as elite enclaves for the rich.

"A lot of bad press has made it look as if the schools were opposed to one another, but both kinds of schools are actually in the same educational sea," says Anne Rosenfeld of nais "And independent schools want to be part of the community they're in."

Strengthening community relationships is the focus of both St. Louis's "Pairing and Sharing" and Washington's "Cities" programs. Pairing and Sharing, a voluntary outgrowth of the city's desegregation efforts, has taken the program's elementary-school children to art, history, and science classes at each other's schools, and has linked them in visits by bus to local museums and other attractions.

"It teaches them that although in some ways they're different, there are also a lot of ways in which they are the same," says Evelyn Pronko of The Community School.

"Schools in St. Louis are 75 percent black," explains John Jackson, administrative assistant at the Jefferson School--The Community School's partner. "There's no way to spread black students and white students equitably. The Community School saw this as a way to get involved in what's going on in the rest of the city."

Meeting on Neutral Turf

The Cities Program, established in the late 1960's by the District of Columbia Public Schools and the Potomac School in outlying McLean, Va., has similar goals for junior-high-school students. In previous years, the program has brought the public and private students together on neutral turf for weeklong seminars in such fields as urban history, geography, and current events; but this year, under a grant from the U.S. Education Department's office of school improvement, the program is focusing on urban law. About 300 students from 11 public and private schools are involved.

The National Network of Complementary Schools, a group of 14 public and 13 private schools across the nation, is the largest-scale collaborative program now in operation. Participating schools support the network with a membership fee, and it in turn arranges for student exchanges involving more than 50 different special-interest programs at the various schools.

Students pay travel costs to get to the exchange-program site; housing is provided either in dormitories or with local families.

The Germantown (Pa.) Friends School, which is a member, sent six students to oth-er network schools this year: in addition to a participant in the Quinter, Kans., agriculture program, the Philadelphia school had a student in Interlochen, Mich., studying the harp; in Rock Point, Ariz., studying silversmithing; and in Houston, studying silkscreening.

"The key thing for these kids," notes Sherrie Randall, a public-school guidance counselor who serves as the network's executive director, "is increasing their ability to take risks and to adapt to different environments."

In addition, under a grant from the Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund, the network this year has also initiated a teacher-exchange program, a development that suggests another attraction of the collaborative approach, according to nais's Ms. Rosenfeld. "Sometimes," she notes, "when funds for going it alone elude them, schools find that money for collaborative programs can be easier to get."

Foundations and corporations that over the years have been generous donors to private schools have now begun to pave the way for programs involving public schools, she says. For example, Minneapolis's "School Improvement Model," a program that brings public- and private-school staffs together in the development of an evaluation system for administrators and teachers, is supported by the Northwest Area Foundation.

Collaborative Activities Advanced

Corporate contributors have also significantly advanced collaborative activities. Among them is the Weyerhauser Corporation, which recently granted $110,000 to the Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, Wash., for a summer program for minority students modeled after a similar effort established by the corporation in Seattle.

The Exxon Corporation is using a summer and Saturday mathematics and science institute to promote engineering careers among talented minority high-school students in Houston. Operated jointly by the private Kincaid School, the Houston public-school system, and local engineering firms, the effort has been so successful, according to Exxon officials, that they are setting up a second program in Dallas.

On the other hand, public funding sources, which have often been unavailable to private institutions, are also receptive to collaborative ventures, participants argue.

The sphere program in Hartford, Conn., for instance, is aimed primarily at disadvantaged public-school children, but is it operated by a consortium of local private schools with funds from the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Department of Children and Youth Services, and the Hartford Board of Education.

Some programs, like the Community Program in Urban Arts in New York City's Bronx section, receive their funds from the federal government through Title IV-C, a program that will be eliminated next year, to be replaced by block grants. And although the potential entanglements accompanying federal dollars have traditionally made those in the private sector leery of accepting them, officials have encountered no problems with collaborative programs and are, some say, looking forward to increased cooperation between public and private schools through the state councils set up to distribute federal block-grant funds.

"As resources for education diminish, all sectors must make maximum use of those funds that are available," argues Robert L. Smith of the Council for American Private Education.

Exceptional Students

Although many collaborative programs concentrate on disadvantaged, low-achieving students, Houston's mathematics and science institute is designed for exceptionally able ones. So is the "Massachusetts Advanced Study Program" (masp).

masp brings the state's brightest public- and parochial-school juniors to the 184-year-old campus of Milton Academy outside of Boston. There, they receive a taste of what lies ahead for them in college during six weeks of intensive study and college and career guidance.

Support for masp, launched last summer, comes from a wide range of foundations, businesses, and local high-technology firms. Last summer's catalog for the program listed 43 donors, from major banks and insurance companies to an area Rotary Club and Burger King.

According to Richard E. Barbieri, a philosophy teacher at Milton who directs not only masp but a second program to increase students' writing skills, the participants pay tuition, but 74 percent of last year's students received either full or partial financial aid. The initial ''class" included 125 students from 71 public schools and 7 parochial schools. This year, Mr. Barbieri says, the enrollment will grow to nearly 200.

Describing these and other collaborative programs in the most recent issue of Independent School, Mr. Barbieri adds: "The will to proceed, and the willingness to listen, were all it took to make collaboration work."

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