Improving Schools through Partnerships: Learning from Charter Schools: Charter Schools That Have Partnered with Nonprofit, For-Profit, and Public Organizations Have Leveraged a Wealth of Human, Financial, and Organizational Resources to Help the Schools Improve. the Authors Suggest That All Schools Can Learn from the Charter Schools' Experience

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ON ANY WEEKDAY morning in the small town of Thomasville, Georgia, around 100 students walk past the moss-laden oak trees dotting the grounds of the Vashti Center, a nonprofit corporation connected to the Methodist Church. The students wave to a sea of friendly faces as they enter the majestic building that houses Bishop Hall Charter School. During the school day, students in grades 9-12 learn about art, philosophy, literature, and cultural studies as part of integrated thematic units. Bishop Hall's approach to learning stresses the acquisition of skills through hands-on application of computer technology, Internet research, work study, and community service.

In the afternoons, students disperse around town to take advantage of the specialized training and courses offered through a range of partnerships. Some students head to the nonprofit Henny Penny Film and Production Company, where they work on the production of television advertisements and promotional videos as well as stage dramatic shows. Others go across town to Garrison Pilcher Elementary School, where they serve as instructional aides and mentors to the younger students. Another group of students can be found at Southwest Georgia Technical College, fulfilling a Bishop Hall graduation requirement of successfully completing college-level courses. Still others are on the athletic field with a former professional football player who now owns and runs Next Level, a for-profit fitness training center. The partners involved in Bishop Hall Charter School understand the benefits of collective action. The organizations were initially drawn together by their common mission --improving educational opportunities for students "not making it" in the town's traditional public schools. The partners quickly learned that by working together they could accomplish more than they could on their own. Furthermore, the school was able to leverage knowledge, expertise, and other resources from a variety of nonprofit, for-profit, and public organizations.

BENEFITS OF PARTNERING

Partnerships have been plentiful in fields outside of education as a mechanism for improving service delivery. (1) Findings from prior research suggest that partnerships can tap three areas of potential benefits that organizations working on their own lack.

* Organizational benefits. Partnerships help organizations work more effectively toward accomplishing their strategic missions. A partner can offer expertise or knowledge to increase the productivity of organizations and to help them solve problems. (2)

* Political benefits. Partnerships provide credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the community and other stakeholders. Well-established partners can enhance a newly formed organization's image and reputation through name recognition or by providing members to sit on a board of directors. (3)

* Financial benefits. Partnerships enable organizations to begin, to grow, or to significantly improve their programs. (4) A partner that can offer financial resources can also provide stability for an organization to pursue new ventures.

Partnerships, as we use the term here, are purposeful arrangements with other organizations that are fundamental to the creation, survival, and growth of an individual organization. Such partnerships differ from the many donation programs of the past in that they are designed to address concerns that go beyond the capacity of any of the individual parties. (5) In the context of schools, this translates into partnerships focused on improving the core of schooling--teaching and learning.

PARTNERSHIPS IN ACTION: THE CHARTER SCHOOL CONTEXT

Because charter schools exist in a context that is highly amenable to partnering, the practice is particularly common in them. (6) Charter schools face operational challenges that often push them toward forming partnerships, (7) and the laws in many states encourage such outside involvement as well. …