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Don’t overlook the importance of strategic partnerships

If I asked you to scratch out a list of all the people and events that played a role in your academic success, I could guess at some of the influences you might include: an exceptional teacher, a mentor, a coach. But a vacuum cleaner company?

Turns out, students and teachers at North Canton Hoover High School in Ohio owe a lot to vacuum cleaners. The school is named after the Hoover Vacuum Company, which has donated tens of thousands in teacher grants and facilities improvements over the years, reports Education World.

When we talk about community engagement in schools, we tend to focus on the obvious. Strategies for engaging parents and students and teachers command the lion’s share of our time—and rightly so. But your school community is bigger than that. Local businesses and nonprofits have a vested interest in student success—and many of them have the funds and resources to help erase frustrating resource gaps.

As Education Secretary John King said in an article in the Atlantic recently: “Schools are embedded in communities, and if we want to ensure that all of our schools are successful, we need good partnerships.”

New provisions in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act stress the importance of community partnerships in schools.

Whether its vacuum manufacturers, a thriving technology startup, grocery store chains, or local colleges and nonprofits, the list of potential school district partners varies from community to community. But the idea is often the same: To find a common interest or cause that both parties can get behind.

So what do good school-business partnerships look like? Here’s three examples of creative arrangements positioned to contribute to the greater good.

An inspired workforce
Cleveland High School, in Reseda, Calif., partnered with airplane maker Boeing to encourage new career paths for students. Company executives see the partnership as a way to infuse an aging workforce with young, well-trained manufacturing talent.

Cleveland High and Boeing created a job shadowing program. Students are transported to Boeing’s local plant, where they team with other students to learn job skills. A special mentor is assigned to discuss career possibilities with students.

For Principal Allan Weiner, the key to capturing Boeing’s participation and interest was in the school’s curriculum.

“I think the best way to get industries and businesses interested in your school is to have courses that support those industries,” explains Weiner in Education World. “Advertise that fact and they will come seeking you.”

New ways of teaching
When Greg Green, former principal of Clintondale High School outside of Detroit, decided to “flip” the school day, he sought help from Techsmith, a local technology provider.

The idea was similar to the flipped classroom concept: Let students watch lectures at home or before class, while using class time to work with teachers on homework.

Techsmith agreed to provide free software that educators could use to pre-record lectures. In addition to software, the company also provided support staff to help Green and his team scale the program.

The result? A dramatic drop in student failure rates and higher overall school performance.

A community approach
In certain communities, students don’t have the time, or the support, to pursue their career ambitions.

To create stronger, more supportive networks for students and families, the Vancouver Public Schools recently launched a community schools program. The effort, which uses resources from local businesses to provide essential services, such as housing placement, food service, and dental care to poor families takes some of the stress and distractions out of life outside of the classroom.

The district’s approach includes actively listening to its community to better understand the needs of families and students.

Does your district partner with local businesses to enhance learning, or to help students and families solve problems outside the classroom? How did you determine who to partner with? Tell us in the comments.

Want to engage your school community in a discussion about shared resources? Start by opening up a dialogue that includes different perspectives.