Academic journal article High School Journal

Building Bridges toward Excellence: Community Involvement in High Schools

Academic journal article High School Journal

Building Bridges toward Excellence: Community Involvement in High Schools

Article excerpt

Despite increasing interest in the role of community involvement in school improvement, few studies have examined motivations for, or results of community partnership development in high schools. To fill this gap, the authors conducted case studies of three high schools with successful community partnerships. The authors found that case high school leaders' motivation for community partnership development fell into three inter-related categories: (1) improving student academic and personal success, (2) enhancing school quality, and (3) supporting community development. The case high schools developed an array of community partnership activities that reflected these different motivations for partnership development. The article concludes with case school leaders' advice for building effective school-community connections.

Introduction

Today, public schools are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. On one hand, they are being held accountable for the learning gains of an increasingly diverse student population. On the other hand, states are slashing education budgets due to record deficits. One positive result of this unenviable position has been schools' renewed interest in community involvement. Such involvement is valued as a means to generate both needed resources to support school improvement efforts and students' learning, as well as community support for educational expenditures and school referendums. The greatest energy and success for increased community involvement has been found in elementary schools. High schools generally lag behind in their efforts to integrate family and community involvement in their schools' cultures and improvement efforts. This lag is attributable to some unique features of high schools, among these are the size and structure of the schools, and the orientation and training of faculty and administrators (Dornbusch & Glasgow, 1996; Dornbusch & Ritter, 1988).

Despite clear obstacles, there are high schools that have successfully incorporated community involvement in their efforts to achieve school wide excellence. Practitioners at these high schools can offer other practitioners, as well as policy makers and researchers answers to significant questions about school-community partnerships. For example, Holt (1996) has argued that an essential requirement to ensure successful high school reform is a "clear and shared understanding of why reform is contemplated ... (p. 216)". Yet, to date, few studies have explored why high school leaders engaged in community partnership building have chosen to do so and the results they have achieved. To fill this gap, this study (1) examines community involvement, defined here as a schools' connections with businesses, and community individuals and agencies (2), at three high schools with successful partnership programs to answer the following research questions:

1. Why do high schools implement community partnership programs?

2. When developing community partnership programs, what types of community partners and activities do high schools select?

Community Involvement in High Schools Perhaps the best measure of a successful high school is one that can provide for the very diverse needs and interests of its student body, while also ensuring a certain standard of academic competence for all its students. To do so, high schools require support from multiple stakeholders, including significant adults in students' families and communities. School, family, and community partnerships in high schools have been associated with increased learning opportunities for students and community development (Durkin, 1998); more positive parent attitudes toward school (Sanders, Epstein, Connors-Tadros, 1999); the academic success of language-minority students (Lucas, Henze, Donato, 1990); and the reduction of student maladaptive behaviors (Nettles, 1991).

Because of such outcomes, most high schools conduct some activities that seek to increase the involvement of students' families and communities. …

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