Public schools need help. Enlisting the support of the community is an obvious solution, but getting across the point of "what's in it for them?" is sometimes a stretch.
Not in the Clarksville Montgomery County (Tennessee) school system, where the 100% Graduation Project has been embraced by the community, thanks to a campaign to educate all stakeholders about the importance of improving the graduation rate.
The Center for Public Education (CPE), an Alexandria, VA-based initiative of the National School Boards Association, just published an in-depth report on the school system's concerted effort to get community involved in boosting high school students' performance.
The result? In 2004, only 76 percent of students graduated within four years, and last year it was 93.5 percent. By 2015, the goal is to hit the 100 percent mark.
While community involvement wasn't the only key to this dramatic improvement in student achievement—after all, the district offers more than 70 programs for students deemed to be "at risk"—it is credited with helping the graduation rate jump from 88 to 93.5 percent.
The school district took its case to the local Chamber of Commerce, armed with statistics about the difference a culture of 100 percent graduation could make. In a departure from what many districts do, Clarksville Montgomery County reached out to businesses for an investment of time more than money, the report states. In addition to businesses, houses of worship and other community groups got into the spirit of school improvement.
"As a result, the school system now has about 110 community partners and a 100% Graduation Project committee that meets quarterly to discuss ways to engage additional community groups and encourage students to pursue their diplomas. The school district even offers weekly bus tours to community members interested in visiting the schools," the CPE report states.
"Lessons Learned" as shared in the case study include:
- Schools must communicate their needs to the community.
- Community engagement is not a short-term solution.
- Think creatively about intervention programs and community involvement.
- Have confidence in your program.
The full report by the CPE, which provides up-to-date research, data, and analysis on current education issues and explores ways to improve student achievement and engage public support for public schools, is available here.