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Scaling the School Wall

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By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA)

The American Association of School Administrators is a strong proponent for the education of the total child. We firmly believe that schools cannot do it alone. There are many factors outside the school that affect a child's ability to learn. Our ability to succeed in the classroom can be enhanced by collaborating with community agencies that provide the services that ensure that our children come to school ready to learn.

Easier said than done. I spend a considerable amount of time talking to community groups and non-profits that are trying to climb over the school wall to offer their programs and services. Often they find administrators unreceptive to their advances. On the other side, the economic recession has brought about draconian cuts in our schools' programs and services, and administrators are scrambling for ways to restore them. Seems like a problem and a solution in need of an introduction.

Here are 10 suggestions that might help agencies and schools come together for the education of the total child.

  1. The agency must clearly identify and describe the services to be offered and portray them as supportive of the school's goals. For example, an organization offering mentoring and tutoring can point to how their services could help to improve student achievement.

  2. Approach the school not as a critic, but as a partner wanting to help. Because school people are often under attack, they sometimes regard outsiders with suspicion. If there are problems, define them as belonging to the community, not just the school, and offer to work side by side to solve the common concern.

  3. Bring evidence of success. In God we trust, everybody else must bring data. Demonstrate how your program has helped other schools and offer testimonials from those administrators and teachers.

  4. Consider starting with an external application. It will be easier to get your foot in the school door if your initial program takes place outside the school, after school hours, possibly on weekends. By demonstrating what you can do and how it will help the school, you begin to establish a relationship.

  5. Avoid adding to the burdens already faced by administrators and teachers. Consider that during the last four years schools have suffered extensive budget cuts resulting in the elimination of thousands of jobs, while the number of children in the classroom remains the same or increases. If you can show that your program will make life easier for the school staff, you are golden!

  6. Be willing to be held accountable. Have an evaluation plan in your back pocket to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program. The current education culture places strong emphasis on student achievement, so any program that even marginally supports student gains will be welcomed.

  7. Establish a relationship with the school staff. People in the private sector understand the importance of networking and establishing positive relationships. Being "liked" by the staff will ensure cooperation and support.

  8. When possible, partner with other community agencies that have services that might add to the effectiveness of your program. Some programs, like Communities in Schools, actually provide the coordinating services.

  9. Gain the support of the school community — groups like the PTA, the business community, Rotary, the school board and others. Having allies provides you with validity and acceptance within the school.

  10. Work towards institutionalization of your program and services so that eventually the school owns it. That is the only way to ensure that the program becomes part of the school culture. Your job should be to work yourself out of a job.

There are many organizations in communities all across the country that want to help our children succeed. Imagine what could be accomplished if all of those organizations and our schools joined hands and worked together towards our common goal.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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