Photos: Left: Students of Maplewood High School in Tennessee speak with a community partner at a Career Day event. Right: A student writes a menu at a coffee shop constructed as a result of a community partnership with the school.
It is imperative to ensure that industry and education are aligned in public education. However, this is easier said than done. As is, school leaders are under pressure on a daily basis to maintain safety and good order, improve student performance, evaluate teachers, respond to emails, address parent concerns, and meet district deadlines while juggling a host of other responsibilities.
So when do leaders make time to develop community partnerships? More importantly, where does this task fall in the pecking order of priorities? As a former high school principal in a high-poverty, low-performing school, it was very difficult to gain traction with community partners. As a result of the past reputation of the school, we struggled to get people interested in providing support. Oftentimes when schools approach businesses, they ask for money or financial support. This is a huge turnoff to companies, especially small business owners who may struggle to make ends meet. Reaching out wasn’t going very well, so we decided to invite them in. We reversed the model and created a welcoming platform to get partners into our school. We developed a monthly meeting that we referred to as “Maplewood Monday.”
Every fourth Monday of the month, we held a 60- to 75-minute lunch meeting in our community room. We invited local “mom and pop” business owners, community agencies, restaurant owners, the local police precinct commander, local churches, fast food managers, and local banks, just to name a few. We started with just six partners, and then it organically grew to more than 55 partners in a very short amount of time.
During the meeting, we would outline the challenges our school faced by listing each one on a whiteboard. Then, we would ask the community partners how they could utilize their resources to help us meet each of these challenges. We also allowed our students to showcase their work and invited these partners to any events we hosted at the school. We publicly saluted our partners at ball games and other community events to make them feel like they were a part of the community.
The culmination of these partnerships resulted in the construction of a new health clinic on site, funded and operated by a local hospital; a $500,000 renovation for automotive technology; and the creation of an independent college and career center on campus, which operated like a collegiate student union to provide academic support. We also got a new fitness center, coffee shop on campus; and college scholarship pipeline from a local university that provided more than $1 million dollars annually in scholarship funding to assist first-generation college students in achieving access with a high-quality education.