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How Can Schools Master the Art of Partnerships?

Across the U.S., school-based partnerships are helping to fill gaps in educational programming and training for school staff. But what are the pieces that make up successful partnerships?

To answer that question, Abt Associates’ Sarah Costelloe, senior associate, and the Philadelphia Youth Network evaluated two school-based partnership models in Philadelphia during the 2014-2015 school year.

Evaluating Two Keystone Models

“Successful school-based partnerships take commitment and real time to put together,” said Costelloe.

Costelloe studied the work of school partnership coordinators from the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development and the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative over the 2014-2015 school year.

The Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development featured a model with AmeriCorps VISTAs who were placed full-time in 13 schools across the city, each of which was selected through an application process.

In contrast, the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative model funded two coordinators to work with six schools, allowing the coordinators to spend one to two days per week in each school. The schools were concentrated in South Philadelphia and had a history of working with the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative.

For each model, the evaluation team assessed:

  • The roles and responsibilities of school-based partnership coordinators to learn how they served as a liaison between school staff and partner organizations;
  • The extent to which partnership coordination led to activities that aligned with a school’s needs and goals; and
  • How coordinators facilitated collaboration across partners serving the same school.

A full report, “Successful School-Based Partnerships: A Practical Guide to Building Effective School-Based Partnerships,” describes these findings in detail.

While the models were different, Costelloe points out, “This report is not about which model is better, but about the essential functions of partnership coordinators and how those could be adopted in other schools.”

The Tools for Success

During the evaluation, Costelloe realized the value of sharing the information she was learning in easy to understand ways. “As we looked at the data, we knew we needed to help translate the research into practice and that became the school partnership toolkit.”

The toolkit, “Partnering for Student Success: A Practical Guide to Building Effective School-Based Partnerships,” is designed for multiple stakeholders and for partnerships that are at different stages of implementation. The toolkit has a readiness checklist that helps stakeholders understand where they are in the development of their partnership and what is needed to move forward. The toolkit also provides sample agendas, templates, and other materials that can help schools and partners get started immediately.

Helping Partnerships Today and in the Future

Costelloe states that while the two Philadelphia models were different, established relationships that were maintained over time helped lay the groundwork for success. Clearly defining coordinator roles and responsibilities also helped to facilitate partnerships and increased partner buy-in. Moreover, when schools identified and prioritized students’ needs, collaborating organizations effectively pinpointed gaps and overlaps in service that aligned efforts and avoided duplication.
 

Abt’s Sarah Costelloe explains the school partnership study design during an event hosted by the William Penn Foundation.

As part of the commitment to share the findings, Costelloe discussed her work during a partnership event hosted by the William Penn Foundation. Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera delivered the keynote and announced his support for Abt’s work, stating the toolkit is a resource that will be used throughout the state.

Costelloe says the work connects the dots for schools and partners in concrete, grounded ways. Reflecting on the toolkit and report, she said, “This is one of the most rewarding things I have done as a researcher.”

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