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What We Know About Getting School Partnerships Right

March 14, 2018

adults studyingSchools and districts have long partnered with external organizations to deliver an extraordinary range of enriching programming to their students during and after the traditional school day. A growing body of evidence suggests that these programs can be strongly beneficial to schools, students, and parents alike.
 
But, despite the clear benefits of school-based partnerships, schools and external organizations often find it difficult to develop and maintain effective partnerships with clearly aligned goals. New evidence suggests a way forward: clear and identifiable systems and processes that districts, schools and partner organizations can adopt in order to establish, support and manage partnerships in ways that maximize student success.

Research-Based Guide to Building Effective School-Based Partnerships

For the last three years, Abt Associates has worked closely with school district leaders and partner organizations in Philadelphia to identify elements of effective school-based partnerships. Our research suggests that the elements of developing and maintaining successful school-based partnerships fall into two categories — systems and processes to establish and assess partnerships and intentional management of partnerships.

All participants must establish systems and processes to support their partnerships. They should regularly monitor school goals and needs and use data to identify and prioritize school needs that can be met through school-based partnerships. Successful partnerships also should establish processes for measuring partnership progress and outcomes, and for reflecting upon data to inform future programming decisions.
 
Partnership management begins with stakeholders identifying how partners “fit” with the school and with each other to help meet school goals, and by articulating and aligning goals. They should establish at the beginning clearly defined expectations for implementing programs and activities, including the populations served by each partner. They should revisit these expectations at least annually. School- and student-level data can be used to align and/or establish performance targets for each partnership, and schools and partners should agree upon the resources and supports partners can expect to implement their programs in ways that maximize the likelihood they will meet those targets.
 
Abt Associates developed a guide to assist district staff, school leaders, partnership coordinators, teachers and school staff, and partnering organizations in their efforts to strengthen partnerships. The guide, Partnering for Student Success: A Practical Guide to Building Effective School-Based Partnerships, includes:

  • Roles and responsibilities for various stakeholder groups involved in partnerships;
  • Sample discussion questions to guide conversations between stakeholders; and
  • Tools and templates that can be adapted to help develop and maintain effective school-based partnerships locally.

Step-by-Step Facilitator’s Guide for ‘Partnering for Student Success’

To support facilitators who will deliver training workshops to encourage stakeholders’ use of the Partnering for Student Success guide, Abt, in collaboration with the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, developed a step-by-step Facilitator’s Guide for Partnering for Student Success: A Practical Guide to Building Effective School-Based Partnerships.

Anyone interested in helping schools and partners to strengthen school-based partnerships can use this Facilitator’s Guide to plan and develop trainings. Facilitators might include district or school staff, staff from organizations that partner with schools, or members of community-based agencies. The materials in this guide were designed to be user-friendly for individuals with varying levels of experience with partnerships and/or with planning and delivering training.
 
The Facilitator’s Guide is organized into training modules — one for each of the six elements of effective school-based partnerships, plus an overview module that describes the school-based partnership framework and introduces all six elements in less detail. Accompanying each module are electronic training materials, including PowerPoint slides, activities and handouts, a reflection guide, and a feedback form. We are excited about the possibilities of effective school-based partnerships, and hope this Facilitator’s Guide will ensure Partnering for Student Success is an accessible resource to practitioners.
 
As one principal told us, “smart educators don’t reinvent the wheel.” We hope you won’t have to, either.
 
For more information on Partnering for Student Success and the accompanying Facilitator’s Guide, contact Sarah Costelloe at sarah_costelloe@abtassoc.com.