Issue 18, Spring 2005
Research Brief

Three NNPS High Schools Develop Community Partnerships to Improve High School Programs and Increase Student Success

NNPS researcher Mavis Sanders and former postdoctoral fellow Karla Lewis conducted a study of school-community involvement in three NNPS high schools in urban, suburban, and rural communities. The researchers wanted to learn why educational leaders in demographically different high schools with successful partnership programs chose to dedicate time, energy, and resources to integrate community involvement in their school improvement efforts.

In these schools, community involvement was considered an important way to support student success, enhance school quality, and support community development. Partnership leaders at the three high schools went far beyond the limited community involvement reported by many high schools to develop a variety of community partnership activities that benefit students and their families, the schools, and the surrounding communities (see Table 1). The interviews and information from the study may guide others interested in improving school-community connections.

Table 1

Make Partnerships a Priority

The educators in this study offered the following advice: prioritize process, permit time, and promote community ownership. First, the leaders advised other high schools to make partnership program development a high priority and to set a firm foundation. A partnership committee member at one school suggested that schools must have a “clearly defined mission.” With clear goals for good partnerships, a team member at the second high school advised, “Start small with a needs assessment, strong leader, small dedicated committee, strategic plan, clear action steps, and an ongoing . . . yearly evaluation process.” The high schools in the study warned against shortchanging this process to achieve quick results. A team member at the third school observed, “You know sometimes when people try to plan something and take on a new initiative, they want to do it big .[B]ut it has to grow from something. The roots need to be there.”

Allow Time

The NNPS high schools in the study emphasized the importance of allocating the necessary time for partnership program development. One leader reflected that other high schools ". need to take the time; they have to be dedicated." Another urged: "Don't give up after the first couple of months of trying. Initially it looks like a big undertaking, but don't be discouraged." Time is needed to identify school and community needs, contact potential community partners, attend planning meetings, and evaluate and reflect on past activities in order to improve future activities.

Promote Ownership

Finally, the partnership leaders in the study schools encouraged other high schools to promote ownership among community partners. One principal advised: “You have to let (community partners) know that you really want them involved, even if it is no more than sending out a communication on a regular basis . Then they can buy into it and actually take some ownership because you are soliciting their ideas.” A partnership committee member at the same school observed, “Community partners are valued here. .We make sure that we help them find a niche.”

High schools, then, like elementary and middle schools, can reap the benefits of school-community partnerships by prioritizing collaborative work, planning carefully, allocating time to develop goal-linked practices, and welcoming and valuing partners.

From: Sanders, M. G. & Lewis, K. C. (In press). Building bridges toward excellence: Community involvement in high school. High School Journal.