The successful development of a Community Partnership School requires the identification of core partners with sufficient resources and a willingness to commit to a long-term partnership. It requires a commitment from all partners to work together, share resources, solve any and all issues that arise, and work to ensure that all services and activities are fully integrated into the school.
Since the full support of the school district, school board and leadership of a proposed Community Partnership School is the most critical component for success, the initial step should be the decision by the school system to fully commit to the development and implementation of a Community Partnership School.
Equally important is the identification of the core partners who will also commit to a very different way of working together. A Community Partnership School is not a program or a grant with a defined period of time. It is a commitment to share resources and work together to improve the school and life success of students, their families and the larger community.
UCF received funding from the Florida Legislature to promote additional Community Partnership Schools in Florida similar to Evans Community Partnership School. The university has established the Center for Community Schools and has three planning grants of $75,000 available (with a $25,000 in-kind match).
A community assessment is a key component of the emerging stage of Community Partnership School development. Without a systemic and comprehensive assessment, a Community Partnership School is far less likely to provide needed programs or foster the partnerships that will address the risks and promote opportunities for students, their family and the larger community. Important elements of a good community assessment include the following:
1. Identifying the team that will collect the data. The group should include partners and other key stakeholders from the school and its neighborhood.
2. Conducting a resource inventory of existing programs and services.
3. Reviewing data (such as school suspension and attendance rates, after-school attendance, and community health statistics). This process should be helpful in identifying patterns, revealing gaps in information and generating questions for further exploration.
4. Implementing surveys with key constituent groups, including parents, teachers and students, to obtain their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the school and the unmet needs of students and families.
5. Interviewing key stakeholders including school administrators, faculty and staff, parents, students, and community leaders to secure their interpretation of the data and suggestions for addressing issues identified.
6. Facilitating focus groups of stakeholders to allow for deeper exploration of the questions raised in the data review, surveys and interviews.
7. Analyzing the data gathered to generate an action plan.
8. Sharing finding and recommendation to stakeholders.
The analysis of the assessment will set the stage for the development of goals for the partners to agree on. Some will focus on short-term outcomes (increasing after-school tutoring) and others will aim for long-term outcomes (improving the economy of the neighborhood). New and existing partners may have to change the way they work in order to build collaborative relationships. Schools will have to share decision-making with other members of the team. Evaluation of the partnerships goals must be ongoing.
Governance: Building and Sustaining the Partnership
Without the right partners with a commitment to invest their time, resources and contacts on a long-term basis, a successful Community Partnership School cannot happen. Decision-making and communication is critical. Evans High School • A Community Partnership School established a Cabinet comprising the principal, the president/CEO of the Children’s Home Society of Florida (the not-for-profit lead organization, the dean of the College of Health and Public Affairs at UCF, the president/CEO of Central Florida Community Health Centers, the chairman of a community business and faith leaders development group, and the president of the Evans student-led Community Partnership School support group. Other key staff from the school and key partner organizations attend. The Cabinet meetings typically have been held on a monthly basis and are used to track progress, address critical issues and provide direction to Community Partnership School staff.
Evans also employs a Community Partnership School Leadership Team comprising the Community Partnership School director (an employee of the lead not-for-profit) and key staff from all of the partners to work on implementation issues and communication within the school and out to the broader community.
Planning Your Community Partnership School
The job of implementing a Community Partnership School takes a strong and sustained commitment from all partners to their shared responsibilities, as well as an approach that accommodates both short- and long-term results.
To begin the process you will need to identify the people and organizations that will form your collaborative team. They should include:
• A lead partner. This critical role is utilized in a variety of Community Partnership School models including Children’s Aid Society of New York, Beacon Schools, Communities in Schools and University Assisted Schools. This partner will be the organization that will serve as the primary intermediary linking the partner organizations, school population and the community. The organization leads the community involvement for the principal, helps with the identification of partners and resources, organizes meetings, and helps with fundraising. In some Community Partnership Schools this role is filled with a district employee that serves as the site coordinator. Due to the size of Evans High School • A Community Partnership School (over 2,500 students), this role is filled by the Community Partnership School director employed by the lead and a Community Partnership School administrator employed by the district.
• The principal and other district and school officials. There is consensus among Community Partnership School models that the principal drives change in the school and works with partners to build capacity within the school to transform its culture and climate and to effectively integrate all Community Partnership School activities.
• Parents and other community members. They are also key partners in Community Partnership Schools. Parents, business owners, local officials, faith leaders, homeowners and others all have a stake in the success of the school and their community.
• Students. They will be those most impacted by the changes and their inclusion in the planning and implementation of the Community Partnership School will build a sense of ownership. Older students can find opportunities to develop leadership skills and a sense of responsibility to their school and community.
• Funders. Both public and private funders should be engaged in the process as soon as possible. They can provide expertise in program planning and implementation as well as financial support.
• Champions. It is important to identify and cultivate champions among funders, civic leaders, elected officials and others.
Once the key partners have been identified and commit to the development of a Community Partnership School, it is important to assess and articulate the skills, expertise and resources that each partner brings to the table. Partners should understand that success comes from starting small, achieving initial successes and building gradually. As programs and resources are identified space needs to be identified. Space should be accessible and welcoming to students and parents.
Building an assessment component from the beginning is important. If tutoring is added as an initial program, key metrics such as attendance, impact of achievement, etc., should be identified and tracked to provide ongoing information to adjust and improve the effectiveness of all Community Partnership School activities.
It is also important to understand that marketing and communications are critical to the sustainability of Community Partnership School initiatives. From the planning stages and on an ongoing basis, the sharing of new programs, academic improvement, health gains and other key outcome measures through tours, presentations and media coverage helps funders, legislators, the media and business groups understand the value of a Community Partnership School approach.
Paying for Your Community Partnership School
Due to the success of Evans High School • A Community Partnership School and the support of a wide variety of funders (JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Heart of Florida United Way, Disney, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and many others) and legislative leaders, the Center for Community Schools and Child Welfare Innovation at the University of Central Florida is available to assist school districts and communities during the assessment and planning stages of a Community Partnership School transformation. The center can provide funding for a comprehensive planning effort as well as coaching and assistance in that effort.
The Evans High School • A Community Partnership School partners have identified five core positions that are key to developing and sustaining a Community Partnership School model. These core positions with salary benefits and support represent an annual investment of approximately $350,000. Both UCF and the Children’s Home Society of Florida have made sustaining the core funding for Evans Community Partnership School, and any school completing its planning process, a top legislative priority. The core funding is sought to provide stability and a solid base for a Community Partnership School, but experience has shown that these core positions and the commitment of the right partners can leverage significantly more resources.
For example, Evans High School • A Community Partnership School has secured on-site primary, behavioral and dental health facility available to all students, their families and faculty — Evans Wellness Cottage; a workforce program that provides job readiness training and placement for up to 175 juniors and seniors; a variety of after-school enrichment activities; and most recently a grant to develop a digital arts academy in partnership with United Arts, UCF and Valencia College.
The support of foundations and local business has been crucial to the development of Evans High School • A Community Partnership School, from grants to support key positions to the funding of snack cabinets to address hunger issues among the students.
Each Community Partnership School needs to develop a sustainability plan and recognize that while the amount of funding may fluctuate, the commitment of the core partners will ensure that the Community Partnership School continues and thrives.
Any school district, community organization or stakeholder with an interest in exploring the possibility of a Community Partnership School can contact the Center for Community Schools at UCF. We can assist in providing background information, examples of successful Community Partnership Schools, memorandum of understandings between partners, organizational charts, etc.
Staff members are available to present locally and to assist in local districts and communities through consultation and possible planning grants once the core partners have been identified and are ready to commit.