Community-Based Organizations and Turnaround

The White House held a fascinating meeting on Monday, dealing with the role of community-based and interfaith service organizations in school turnaround.  They brought together a real range of organizations: research groups, unions, turnaround lead partners, faith-based organizations, and education agencies, to list a sample.

The link above describes the contours of the conversation, but I wanted to make a few other points.  One, leveraging the expertise of community partners is essential to building and sustaining turnaround efforts.  Communities and their official and unofficial representatives have myriad assets that can be brought to bear on school improvement efforts.  To ignore those assets is unwise.  Not every organization is owed a role in the school turnaround process, however. Roles must be well-defined, and both schools and partners should have measurable objectives for their partnerships.

Second, it’s important to differentiate between “service provision” and “activism/engagement.”  This is a fairly blunt dichotomy, but I think it’s an illustrative one when thinking about the role of community-based organizations.  Many organizations play one role or another, but some play both.  Some blur the line and occupy a gray space between advocate and service provider.  It’s important for organizations to understand that the way they interact with schools/systems will differ depending on where they fit in this structure.

Third, not every organization can play a role in schools, particularly those schools with serious, chronic challenges.  When I walk into a principal’s office, and I ask with which organizations he/she partners, I get very worried if there’s a long list.  Because it’s very hard to execute even one partnership well, let alone twenty of them.  Turnaround schools should strive to do a few things extremely well before collecting a long list of partner organizations.

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