Richard Therrien Position Statement on School and Community Partnerships
As an educational leader I strongly believe in the concept of partnering with the family and community in order to improve a child’s education. It is my philosophy that schools are for students, and a school or program that does not reach out to the greater community is setting itself apart, and treating students as simply the products of their factory. The Connecticut State Department of Education has an excellent resource at http://www.state.ct.us/sde/deps/Family/SFCP/pap.pdf. In all cases, a successful partnership between schools and the greater community involve constant and effective communication. It also requires a school to realize that education can reach out to the community just as effectively as the community be part of education.
The most effective school and community partnerships, as in anything in education, require careful planning. Joyce Epstein at Johns Hopkins University has developed a research based framework for the development of partnerships that involves six steps: Parenting, Communicating, Volunteering, Learning At Home, Decision Making, and Collaborating with the Community. This may seem overwhelming, but if tied into the basic mission and vision, educators should be able to easily adopt this model
Each Board of Education is required by the State of Connecticut to adopt a plan for communicating with the home. Teachers and staff should expect that they are required to communicate via understandable means about the learning expectations for students, as well as programs and progress, both group and individual. A recent article in Teacher magazine pointed out that educators need to do a better job about communicating in clear and understandable language, rather than jargonese. Parents cannot help their children learn, unless they are clear about the methods and words use to describe the learning process. A great example of communicating with the home is through the use of newsletters, websites, emails, and other written means. However, many schools neglect the important personal face to face communications that are so important in retaining parental support. As a leader, my expectation is for all educators to continually strive for both methods of communication.
Another way in which I believe school and community partnerships are important is the concept of continual learning. Students don’t only learn at our sites, during our school day, and we need to promote this concept. Several years ago, the Connecticut Academy for Mathematics, Science and Technology promoted the idea that “Learning Doesn’t Take A Vacation” with posters and workshops. The idea was to get parents involved as partners, not simply as adjuncts to the professional educators. This is key in making sure that students will evenotually see the entirety of their life as a learning experience. The value that we place on these partnerships go beyond their impact on the current learning, but also build a foundation for the future. I envision homework assignments that are designed with parents, and involve doing something as a family, in the community. Especially in situations where students do not see the relevance of schooling to their life, these kinds of programs can increase learning. Research has shown this over and over again. In a comprehensive review of the research literature , Henderson and Berla (A New Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Education. 1994, p. 1) report that "The evidence is now beyond dispute. When schools work together with families to support learning,
children tend to succeed not just in school, but throughout life."
What does this mean in reality? This means that educators have to not only involve parents and the community as an afterthought, but as an integral partner in the school. The curriculum needs to be filled with requirements for guest speakers, community involvement, fairs, demonstrations, field trips, and a host of relevant learning activities. Businesses and local groups should be invited to be involved in the schools, and the school facilities need to be open to all people at all times. In essence, school needs to change from being a place, to a state of mind. Every adult that comes into contact with a child or his environment is can now be thought as a partner in that learning.