A final note
The following steps offer a guide to setting up a partnership program in your school.
The first step is to create an Action Team for Partnerships (ATP). The team should consist of at least two or three teachers at different grade levels, two or three parents with children in different grades, and at least one administrator. If there is an existing parent organization (i.e., PTA, PTO, parent council), one of its members should serve on the Action Team for Partnerships.
Additional members may include one or more business or community partners. In high school, two students from different grades should serve on the Action Team for Partnerships. You may also want to include a guidance counselor, cafeteria worker, school psychologist, or other person who really knows what goes on in the day-to-day life of the school.
The team should include at least six, but usually not more than twelve, members. One or two persons should be elected as the Action Team Chair or Co-Chairs. The leader(s) also report the team's activities and progress to the school council, school improvement team, the school board, or other groups on a regular schedule.
Members of the ATP also become chair or co-chairs of committees that focus on family and community involvement for specific school goals, or for developing and strengthening each of the six types of involvement identified in the "Exploration" section.
The people on the ATP must be strongly committed and have the time to devote to this work. Members serve terms of two to three years, and terms of service may be renewed. The formation and composition of the ATP is important so that no one person is overburdened by planning and implementing partnerships, and so that the work of the ATP will continue even if some members move, retire, leave the school, or end their terms of service.
The second step is to obtain funds to support the costs of partnership activities planned each year. Most schools can cover their program costs with a budget of $5-$10 per student per year. It may be of interest that schools, districts, and states can join the National Network of Partnership Schools and obtain Network materials and guidance at no cost. This may make it possible to target available funds to cover the costs of activities in schools' one-year action plans. Even a minimum of $1,000 per year will help cover most schools' costs for basic partnership activities. Funds may be available in local, state, and federal program budgets that already mandate or recommend family involvement, such as Title I, Title VI, Title VII, Safe and Drug Free Schools, Goals 2000, or related programs. Other sources of funds include selected school budgets and support from local businesses and civic organizations.
The ATP must have the support of the principal and district leaders. The team will need meeting space, time to plan, and the ability to schedule and conduct activities. If support is provided, some planning and development activities can be completed in the summer to prepare for the next school year.
In order to be able to measure progress, you need to know where you are starting. The ATP needs to look at existing parental and community involvement and develop ways to improve on it. It should also collect information about the views, experiences, and needs of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Sample inventories of starting points, forms for planning, surveying, and evaluating progress are included in the basic school, family, and community partnership materials from the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins.
Some questions that need to be addressed to begin planning and implementing a partnership program include:
Existing strengths: What's working now and what's working best in terms of family and community involvement in the school? At which grades does it work best? Which types of involvement are strongest? (See the inventory "Starting Points" from the National Network of Partnership Schools Handbook for Action.)
Needed changes: What results does your school want to see from the program? What present partnership practices are causing problems or not working and need to be changed?
Expectations: What do teachers expect of families, and what do families and the community expect from teachers and other educators? What do students expect from both their families and the school to keep them on track?
Sense of community: Which families are currently involved and which are not being reached? Which families are difficult to reach? What can be done to get them involved?
Links to goals: How are students actually doing on standardized tests and report cards? How is attendance? What is the dropout rate? How can partnership programs help improve these indicators of student success? What activities conducted by the program might have a direct impact on these goals?
Once you have identified goals and areas that need improvement, the Action Team for Partnerships needs to develop a three-year outline and a detailed one-year action plan. The long-term vision sets broad goals. The one-year action plan is essential for setting a clear schedule of activities and specific dates that they will be conducting in the school year. The one-year action plan also specifies the responsibilities of committees that will focus on implementing partnerships to meet specific schools' goals or that focus on developing and improving partnership activities for the six types of involvement. The action plan is the basis for end-of-year evaluations to determine what is or is not working, and which activities should be continued or changed in the next school year.
The plan should include as much detail as possible and should have a division of responsibilities, a listing of costs, and a method for evaluating progress. It should be presented to the school board or council, shared with all teachers and students (in middle and high school), and given to any existing parent organization. Input from those who receive information about the ATP should be incorporated as its work progresses, if possible. Alternate forms for preparing a three-year outline and one-year action plan are provided in the Handbook of the National Network of Partnership Schools. (See the Resources page for more information.)
The Action Team for Partnerships must implement its one-year action plan every year. It will meet monthly as a full team to monitor progress, and committees will meet as needed to ensure the successful implementation of specific activities. The ATP leaders will meet at least twice during the year with the school council or improvement team to report progress. An end-of-year celebration helps everyone at the school review the good work on partnerships that was done throughout the year. A review of progress also helps the ATP gather ideas for the next one-year action plan.
The three-year outline should be updated each year, and specific plans for the coming year discussed and detailed. Members should always be looking for ways to improve partnership activities and school functioning and continue to assess their work.
This list was adapted from: Epstein, Coates, Salinas, Sanders, and Simon. SCHOOL, FAMILY, AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS: YOUR HANDBOOK FOR ACTION. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1997. For more information about developing partnerships, visit our Resources page.