There is broad consensus that the work of providing a 21st century education to our students cannot be the work of the schools alone, but rather requires sound and full partnerships among individual schools, the district, families, and community partners from a variety of sectors.
How can the School Committee work to ensure that these partnerships are in place and work for the benefit of our students?
Cara Berg Powers:
In order to build and maintain successful partnerships across a number of communities and stakeholders, you have to have authentic relationships with those different groups. As someone who has worked as an Executive Director in the non-profit sector and been involved in a number of volunteer community initiatives, I have extensive experience in building and maintaining partnerships to meet shared goals. It's about ongoing communication and shared leadership. We also need to make sure that we're investing in the right partnerships to meet our goals. This takes thinking systemically about who needs to be at the table and why they would want to be at the table. When we're thinking about engaging parents and families, we need to think about how we want to be engaged, what we hope to get out of these engagements. Getting a phone call three days before a meeting that has no childcare, is at dinner time with no food provided, and knowing that our public transportation system has limitations for many community members is not a great incentive to participate. Especially when the extent of community participation in many meetings is lining up to speak for 2-3 minutes. I'll host monthly community meetings that are designed to foster community input and survey members about how and when they can participate. I'll meet with leaders from different sectors to learn about how they see themselves engaging with schools, and with schools about their goals and how we can connect these things to one another. It's what I've done for the last 15 years, bringing arts into schools with programs designed to meet the goals of schools with different populations and goals. And I know I can bring those skills to the School Committee to help connect the incredible resources that our schools and communities have to one another to benefit our students.
Yes, research reveals that the realities in our communities shape the learning in the classrooms. If our communities are surrounded by social toxins related to racism, poverty, violence, homelessness and more, this affects how children learn. You can have the most culturally relevant curriculum and the most dynamic teaching, but if a child is in school suffering from a toothache it will be hard for that child to learn. So if we focus only on teaching and curriculum and neglect the realities that are affecting our children from outside the school walls, we will continue to struggle inside the school building. As an elected official on the school committee, I will work in concert with the city council and the city manager’s office to address the challenges that our children face in their communities. They need safe and clean parks to play in. They need access to affordable homes in safe neighborhoods. We need to make sure that families have access to employment that pays people a living wage and doesn’t require them to work three jobs to do so. I want to work to make sure we have wrap-around services in all our schools and I will work to have wrap-around coordinators connected with the different city agencies that address housing, employment, health and more. It is important that we focus on educating the whole child. That does not just mean their head, and heart and body, but also their community. We have long known that it takes a village to raise a child. If you elect me to the school committee you will elect someone who is committed not to just raising children, but to raising villages.
As a School Committee member I encourage the positive impact of community relationships. Involving community members and supporting our schools is in essential function and it will only happen as a result of relationship building. As a School Committee member I will continue to go forward as an ambassador in our community at large nurturing and recognizing these valued ,however limited, relationships.
I have spent my professional career at Clark University building partnerships with schools, institutions, families, corporations, and funders. The most successful partnerships have been when the partners recognize the mutual benefits from working together, share a genuine willingness to engage in the partnership, and understand fully the role each partner needs to play.
The Worcester Public Schools have many great examples of these successful partnerships that significantly benefit our students and our community: Worcester Technical High School and the legion of corporate partners connected through the work of Ted Coghlin; the partnership at North High School/Health Science Academy with UMass Medical School; the Hanover Insurance Academy of the Arts and Burncoat Middle and High Schools; and University Park Campus School and Clark University as just a few examples.
I will continue the effort to identify partnerships that are transformational and not just transactional, providing real change and opportunities for the Worcester Public School students as shown in the aforementioned partnerships. Given the struggles with limited funding, it is through these types of partnerships that the Worcester Public Schools will grow and be a more attractive destination for families.
We have the partners and support systems here in Worcester but it needs to be strengthened. From having conversations with leaders from different groups, the key issue discussed is for the School Committee
to maintain relationships with mutual trust and respect. Moving forward with me being on the School Committee, I will work with my colleagues to engage the leaders of these organizations to learn about how we all can partner together and what the partnership will entail. Then, include them at the beginning stages of the planning and execution of key projects. The entire WPS consist of students who speak over 70 different languages and come from diverse SES, this data should scream at us every day and propel us to work with organizations that are serving this crowd. The School Committee members will not always have all the answers but working with various organizations and creating safe spaces where people can share their knowledge and ideas, could help in many positive ways.
As with many of my answers to the prior questions, we must again look toward our Strategic Plan that was developed over a 2 year period involving members of our entire community. As members of the Worcester School Committee, we need to engage all stakeholders in order to provide our students with the education needed to prepare them to go on to higher education or out into the workforce.
As a school committee, we need to be sure that the programs currently in place are efficacious and expand from there. We need to strengthen community partnerships in order to provide internship opportunities as well as other initiatives that work toward enhancing the overall experience for our students in order to prepare them for their next step in life.
We must also engage the community, parents and families to ensure that we are hearing their needs and in turn utilize them in helping us meet our shared goals.
As school committee members our role of setting policy, reviewing programs and policies and asking administration not only what is working, but what isn’t working and what are our challenges is vital to the standard of providing a 21st century education to our students.
Education in the 21st century has been and will continue to be special for it will be about giving our students the much needed skills to succeed in this new century and give them the needed tools for success. More critical thinking, communication and collaboration within the community must continue to take place.
Schools must continue to reach out to the community and establish strong partnerships. The job of the school committee is to work with the district to encourage partnerships across all sectors of the community. This concept does work for as a former principal at Belmont Community School I reached out to businesses and many social agencies within the Belmont Street neighborhood and had great success. I had two very outstanding partners …. UMass Memorial where we established the Wellness care mobile and had a number of special programs at the school and at the hospital. The other active partner was Flagship Bank where students learned about banking. In addition, the bank provided in-kind services, volunteered on school projects and was involved in our reading program.
At the present time this administration has reached out to the community for they have had much success in bringing in a variety of groups to work with and within our schools. At the present time there are four main anchor business partners for each quadrant… Hanover Insurance in the Burncoat quadrant, Unum in the South, UMass Medical School in the North, and Fallon Health in the Doherty quadrant. In addition, work has continued with inner-faith groups, social agencies, and within business groups at individual schools. One can see the importance of many of these partnerships as students delve into the many chapter 74 courses being taken by the students. The partnership involvement has lead to careers for many of the students.
Keep in mind when schools and community organizations work together to support learning, everyone profits... the students, schools and the community. It can result in improved program quality, more efficient use of resources, job within the community and better alignment of goals and curricula.
In summary, I will be filing an agenda item in the fall to discuss where we are with this concept of community partners and what our future plans are as we move forward. Working partnerships are essential to providing 21st century education for our students.
In order for families and the community to fully partner with our schools, they must first be seen by the Worcester School Committee and the Worcester Public Schools administration as having something worthwhile to contribute. Too often, this is clearly not the case.
There is sometimes lip services paid to partnering with families, but partnering requires that the other side’s contribution is seen as valuable. It is too often clear from the district outreach to families that families are seen as having only something to learn from the school district, rather than anything to teach the school district. Yet there are no better experts on the students the Worcester schools serve than their families.
As a parent, rarely am I asked anything beyond signing a few forms. How the system could better serve my children, what works and what does not about the system currently, how resources might be allocated in ways that reach their needs, what the greatest needs of the system are, and what our families could teach the district are not topics that are broached. The needs of families in participation—when are events held, what languages are they held in, is childcare provided, how might families travel there—too often are not a concern.
Families are not seen as partners in the district.
In order for the community to partner in our schools, we need to see the community as more than a source of current donations and future employment, which are the two areas in which the community relegated now. Schools and their students are a part of the community now, and the schools and their students should be plugged into their neighborhoods and the larger city community. This often gets tagged as “civics,” but it is doing the work of schools. This can involve community members being part of capstone presentations for students, students being a part of neighborhood groups, and it certainly should involve students being active at School Committee. The Commonwealth’s Constitution enshrines public schools as created “for the preservation of their rights and liberties,” and we have a responsibility of fulfilling that over the course of students’ time with us
School districts can best optimize the education they provide their students when they implement, and cultivate, partnerships with individuals and entities within their community which can support and enrich that education. This works best when schools truly value such partnerships, when they nurture and encourage them vigorously, when they evolve them in innovative ways, and when they utilize them as ways to inform the community of the needs and challenges of the schools. This diversifies the education of students and brings into the schools the advice and support which help the schools to thrive as well.
Partnerships draw on the skills, expertise, and resources of the entities which are available within the community. Worcester is particularly well-situated in this regard, as both the for-profit and non-profit segments of the community offer a wide range of talents and qualities which are well-adapted to assist the Worcester Public Schools (WPS) in numerous respects. In fact, the WPS has a decades-long history of calling on the service of Worcester entities to serve as “partners” to individual schools, and to WPS programs. The work of the Worcester Education Collaborative, the Worcester Educational Development Foundation, and the Skyline Technical Fund has done much to nurture and support community involvement in the WPS, financial and otherwise.
To thrive, partnerships must include an openness, by schools and by the WPS generally, to integral involvement of the partners in the schools. They bring to the WPS not only volunteer involvement, but skills, talents, and areas of expertise that they are generally willing to share with the WPS. They are a source of sound perspective and wise advice which schools must welcome, and consider thoughtfully. Partnerships will thrive on a sustained basis only when partners know that their insights are truly encouraged. The School Committee can hold the Superintendent of Schools accountable for supporting such partnerships, for encouraging their development, and for evaluating school principals and department heads on their effective and innovative use. The Committee often recognizes such partnerships publicly, and presents certificates of award and appreciation to partners at its meetings, which affirms the partnership, gives the entity a public recognition of its WPS support, and inspires others to form partnerships with the WPS as well. While this is not a mandated responsibility of the School Committee under law, it may be one of its most beneficial initiatives in terms of goodwill.
The WPS depends on the support of families as well. As with its institutional partners, the WPS must welcome the assistance of its families, and encourage their advice. Here, schools must make their School Site Councils – which include significant parent representation – key and valued participants in the school decision-making process. The WPS must welcome parent teacher organizations, and it must make sure that ALL schools are represented on its Citywide Parent Planning Advisory Council, to help this Council to remain a vibrant and vital source of input on major WPS policies and practices.
Clearly, no school district can optimize the education it provides its students unless it draws enthusiastically on the resources of its community. Partnerships with the schools that include the individuals and entities of the community will benefit and energize the community, assist the schools, and enrich the caliber and quality of education provided their children. The School Committee has a duty to treasure this relationship with its community, to preserve it, and to work, consistently and aggressively, to allow it to grow and to prosper.