Archived Story

Richard Weigel: Partnerships set the stage for education’s future

Published 10:57pm Wednesday, August 3, 2011

There are different forms of partnerships that can exist in the school setting. We can enjoy the parent/teacher partnership, community/school partnership, or the school/university partnership, to name a few. Each of these potential partnerships are formed to help children in our schools because we truly care about their future and subsequently, our future.
However, what we should understand about partnerships goes deeper. Our partnerships set the stage for the design of the future of education. As the pressures escalate around us, it will be our partnerships framed around our children that will yield the most profit. We must pull together for the sake of our children to see the very best things happen for our children and our community.
Currently, one of the most exciting partnerships going on in Niles Community Schools is the School/Parent/Community Partnership to re-open Eastside School. Everyone wins from this partnership and that is the key.
This “project” started from seeds of interest shortly after the building was closed. Yes, there were  great physical needs in the building and the funds for the district have been short for some time, (yet never as short as they are today). Then during the school year it became apparent that if we were to put the children’s needs as our primary motivation we should change our Kindergarten program to educate the children all day.
“As districts across the country focus on closing the achievement gap between different socioeconomic and ethnic groups, research is pointing to early childhood as a potent time for preventing the gap before it gets established. Many states are responding by spending more than ever before on preschool. In addition, at least 10 states and a number of local districts on their own have begun expanding the kindergarten program from half to full day as a key strategy for leveling the academic field. Studies indicate that full-day kindergarten can lead to improved academic achievement and may help close the achievement gap. By reducing the need for future retention and remediation, this investment can also lower subsequent schooling costs.”  (http://www.wested.org/cs/we/print/docs/we/home.htm)
The all-day kindergarten seemed like something we really needed to do. The questions were, where would we house the additional classes needed and how would we fund it? The funding issue was solved by using grant funds to help pay for part of the school day for teachers. The space issue could be solved if Eastside School was re-opened. But the journey to do this would take a strong partnership of many different people.
We began with a conversation with our maintenance staff. They are a dedicated group of individuals who care deeply for our schools and children. If they had felt the physical building could not be brought back to life, then the conversation would have stopped right there. However, they affirmed the idea and pledged their hard work to make it happen. Next we asked the administrators in the district for their input. They also affirmed the idea and pledged their support. Next we brought together a steering committee of teachers, administrators, parents and community (a partnership) to review the idea and determine if it was viable or impossible. The discussions were rich and we did not all agree, but after several meetings it was confirmed that we should move forward.
Finally, we had a community meeting at Eastside School. There were many parents, teachers, administrators and community members who came to listen to what we had to say and to respond to the idea. We said from the start that if the overwhelming feeling from this partnership was to leave the building closed, then it would remain closed. Yet, by the end of the evening, the overwhelming feeling of this partnership was to embark on the journey that would lead to something special for our students and the re-opening of Eastside School.
This then framed the current partnership that has been working for two months to prepare the Eastside building for eight new teachers on the bottom floor with volunteers that are painting, scraping, laying carpet, cleaning, changing lights, and more. When you visit the school at this present time, you will see that a good amount of work is still going on. Every day there are some regular volunteers and then a new face, another parent, another community member, a principal from another building, a Lowes employee, or a secretary joining the ranks of the volunteers to do something very special for the children of our community.
The Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at John Hopkins University stated: “The nation’s schools must improve education for all children, but schools cannot do this alone. More will be accomplished if schools, families, and communities work together to promote successful students.”
Working together we can make incredible things happen. The current work at Eastside is a testimonial to that. Our schools exist for the children and whatever the issue, when the dust settles, we should simply ask the question; is this in the best interest of our children? School will open soon but the need for continuing partnerships does not go away. Our New Tech school needs business partners. Howard/Ellis, Northside and Ballard elementary schools need the parent partnerships that support the high expectations of our students. Oak Manor and Ring Lardner need the partnerships to give our children new opportunities. Niles High School needs strong partners to help prepare our children for college and post-secondary instruction.
When we work together for the sake of our children, everyone wins. Remember, we are “Building a Foundation For Our Future.”

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