Schools Must Take Initiative With Partners

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During the past decade, educational partnerships have emerged as a promising response to the widespread demand that high-school graduates be better prepared for college, employment, and citizenship. In a welcome move away from fingerpointing, schools, businesses, and colleges have been collaborating to address problems of education.

As the partnership movement has matured, however, its focus has shifted from creating innovative programs to assessing and stabilizing existing arrangements. And among many businesses and colleges involved in partnerships with precollegiate education, a paternalistic attitude toward schools has surfaced.

One sign of the movement's slowing momentum was the demise last year of Pro Education, a publication that chronicled the emerging programs of the 1980's. In one of the final issues (December 1986), the publisher, Patrick Manders, decried the lack of commitment to schools exhibited by some partners: "It may be a matter of dollars and cents to a business, but there's a human investment of hope and trust on the other end."

Have partners generally established a strong, interdependent relationship with each other? Or, as Mr. Manders's comment hints, have businesses and colleges more often simply "adopted" schools and, expecting little in return, treated them with paternal beneficence for as long as they felt financially able?

To counter the feeling that they are "junior" partners in such arrangements, schools must take the initiative in developing programs that meet their partners' needs as well as their own.

As the first step toward solidifying relationships--and, where necessary, earning their collaborators' full trust--schools should acknowledge that the bottom line is essential to the prosperity and, in some cases, the survival, of their partners. If financial commitment was a concern when Mr. Manders made his statement, it is even more so now, as businesses face a wavering stock market. And colleges, concerned with recruiting from a dwindling pool of college-age students, are increasingly likely to subject projects to cost-benefit analyses.

With such realities in mind, school leaders can begin to think of creative ways of offering specific services that will benefit their partners.

To decide on projects appropriate for business partners, schools should first determine the services provided to the business community by local colleges. The next step is to identify ways in which the schools can extend and supplement those offerings.

For example, businesses often pay tuition for college courses taken by their employees. However, workers enrolled in classes in a college's evening school or at the business site ordinarily cannot avail themselves of the enrichment programs or tutoring offered to full-time students. Schools could agree to help fill the gap, by recruiting teacher volunteers to provide this support.

School faculty members could also assist with a wide range of similar projects:

Elementary-school teachers could tutor workers weak in basic skills (reading, writing, reasoning, and computation).

High-school English instructors could train employees in business and technical writing.

Science and math instructors could teach metrics to older employees.

Business instructors could offer brush-ups as needed for clerical and secretarial staffs, such as refreshers in dictation or telephone-answering procedures.

Humanities instructors could present on-site lectures or performances that employees could attend during lunch.

Guidance counselors could help small businesses with the academic or aptitude testing of their employees--or even assist with the resolution of minor employee clashes, if the company has no personnel director or dispute-resolution program.

Depending on the particular needs of the business and the available facilities, schools could provide such services either on the business site or the school campus.

Not only teachers but also talented students could help with academic work or special projects. Students' efforts in the performing arts should certainly be viewed as a resource for businesses. In New Haven, for example, the Sheridan Middle School's production of "Fame" was featured in a literacy-information fair funded by the Private Industry Council. Mutual of Omaha has also taken advantage of the musical and artistic talents of its partner high schools.

Schools can also support their college partners in a variety of ways. For instance, professors have always sought talented teachers enrolled in graduate classes to assist with research projects. When teachers complete their graduate work, however, this relationship usually ends. Whether or not teachers are enrolled in courses, they should be encouraged to continue helping with research, particularly during the summer, when they are free of teaching duties. Students, too, could volunteer for work at a partner college during the summer or after school.

Teachers' knowledge and experience in instructional matters represent another valuable resource for colleges, especially those that do not offer a degree in education. The professoriate's lack of training in pedagogy has received national attention. Having never been taught how to teach, most professors simply follow the example of their own favorite instructors.

In contrast, most elementary- and high-school teachers have completed classes or inservice workshops on teaching methods and theories of learning. By arranging workshops for their college counterparts, teachers could offer insight into matters ranging from the basic elements of pedagogy, such as the design of a lesson plan, to recent educational research.

To help colleges address problems of attrition, especially among freshmen, guidance counselors might share their understanding of the concerns of high-school seniors facing the transition to higher education.

And even financially secure colleges have restricted budgets for such amenities as musical performances and artistic services for student-sponsored events. Schools could help with such programs by, for example, encouraging their talented students and teachers to contribute posters or calligraphy or provide musical accompaniment.

The Partnership Information Center, in St. Petersburg, Fla., offers computerized information on numerous partnership linkages that can be either modeled or altered by schools seeking more active involvement with partners.

When first discussing the resources they might share with their partners, schools may need to be downright immodest. They must be sure, however, to set restrictions on the number of people and hours available. To establish these limits, faculty representatives should survey the members of the school community regarding their interest, and administrators must guarantee released time or funding, well in advance of offering any services.

Since colleges also are potential partners for businesses, schools should be careful to complement, not replace, services that colleges provide to corporate sponsors.

Strong relationships are built on interdependence. Frequent dialogue between partners can lead to the mutual respect and stable commitments both sides desire. The assessment of partnership programs, then, should address not only the long-range goal of producing well-educated Americans, but also the short-range objective of meeting immediate needs of businesses and colleges through the assistance of their able partners, the schools.

Vol. 07, Issue 25, Page 32

Published in Print: March 16, 1988, as Schools Must Take Initiative With Partners
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