When Partnerships Are Worth It

April 11, 2011
Lydia Dobyns

Lydia Dobyns

Partnering is often lauded in education. Think about how many times a day we invoke the partnership concept, both literally and figuratively. Educators partner with parents-administrators partner with teachers-students partner with other students. You get the picture. We’re right there, too:  New Tech Network partners with communities to create relevant and engaging high schools that prepare students for college and career. Yet, how often do partnerships reap the intended benefits? When are they worth the effort? With shrinking education budgets and a persistent failure to graduate all students well-prepared, we need effective private/public partnerships more than ever. And yet, what’s often a missing element in partnerships is the ability to assess their value and measure impact.

You can see daily examples of great partnerships at New Tech schools.  Our students  thrive when their school culture encourages and supports strong relationships among students, teachers, principals and local businesses.  And we can measure the success of those partnerships by the success of our students and schools.  Take for example, nex+Gen Academy in New Mexico. Local business leaders recognized the benefits of bringing New Tech to Albuquerque and through hard work, forged alliances with the Alburquerque Public School District to build a New Tech from the ground up. Similarly, we often see a principal like Cathi Cox in Ruston, Louisiana, or Princess Shareef in Seattle who are visionaries and who become champions that lead the way to create a local brain-trust of leaders dedicated to better serving needs of youth in their community.We honor the hard work it takes to change a school.

The results are apparent every time I visit a New Tech school and meet teenagers who are confident, articulate and care deeply about the world around them. These students have already become productive citizens. I think of the students at Tiger New Tech that reached out to translate local chamber of commerce bulletins so that more of the community would be able to read about services in both Spanish and English. This is taking place in 14 states in every type of community with every kind of student.

Success is often slow, facing significant challenges like those that plague schools written off as failures; despite the struggle, such schools continue to challenge students to achieve success. At the Eastside Memorial Green Tech Academy in Austin, Texas, students at a school that failed to meet even the most basic academic achievement just took two trophies in the state robotics competition.  As one student said in a newspaper article reporting on the feat, “if it weren’t for Green Tech, I wouldn’t be where I am today and certainly not pursuing engineering.” The partnership there did not happen immediately, but took several years to take root and bear fruit.

With evidence of these great public/private partnerships comes a greater sense of urgency to continually improve our own effectiveness and to find ways to bring elements of the New Tech model to more communities interested and willing to create high schools that prepare students for college and career paths.  As always at New Tech, we try to model what we preach at a national level. We strive to engage in partnerships to strengthen our organization to best serve schools in the network.

This leads me to share what our own “partnership” efforts entail beyond supporting schools in the Network. We also welcome the opportunity to be more connected with other organizations achieving great results at the high school level. NTN has joined a Community of Practice of Deeper Learning sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation. Working with Envision Schools, Asia Society, High Tech High, Big Picture Learning, ConnectEd, Expeditionary Learning and others, this Community of Practice is  engaged in rich conversations around measuring student outcomes, developing student assessments, and combining our voices to advocate effective education policies. The opportunity to learn from one another is too important to let pass.

We owe it to ourselves to find ways to bring effective education to all. Here’s the rub: it is challenging to find the time to establish and nurture meaningful alliances with other like-minded organizations given the demands of our normal day. However, the chance to join forces around student assessment, meaningfully measuring student outcomes and calibrating great student work is so critical that we are commiting ourselves to doing this work together. We know the effort will strengthen our work with schools in the Network. We also know this will help us all discover ways to bring  top quality education to all students regardless of socio-economic status or any other inequities in our communities.

We rarely acknowledge initiatives that fail to meet their stated goals. The national discourse on “fixing” broken schools and closing drop-out factories is bringing attention to the large numbers of our students we fail to serve. It does not, however, make it easy to shine a light on progress.  We at New Tech are committed to producing the positive results built on partnerships and expounding them to all who are willing to listen. Take Anson New Tech, who has wrapped their projects around the local Chamber of Commerce and Historical Society to produce a walking tour that features the amazing history in and around Anson County. The more we talk about these successes, the more we share the promise that comes from well-grounded partnerships, the more we will be able to turn the needle of education towards a more productive future.

Tags: , ,