Building capacity within a school-university partnership: An exploration into the perspectives, experiences, and approaches of various stakeholders
Grant, Brooke L.
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While partnerships in education are not new, they have garnered much interest and investment of late. School districts around the nation are joining with a myriad of partners including members of the community, businesses, educational partnership organizations, and colleges and universities. While in the past schools tended to forge partnerships on an invited or voluntary basis, today many of our lowest performing schools in economically challenged communities are pressed to rely on various partnerships as a turnaround model to increase student achievement. If partnerships are being touted by federal, state, and local governments as a reform that will raise student performance and improve our neediest schools, the nature of such partnerships from the initiation phase through the evaluation and sustainability phase needs to be examined from the perspectives of those involved in the partnership. This study analyzed a school-university partnership intended to reform science teaching in an urban school district. The collaboration under study engaged many members within the community, with its partners including stakeholders from the university, K-12 schools, a science museum, a global Fortune 300 engineering company, a cancer research center, a private medical research organization, a service-learning coalition, and a school district parent coordinating committee. The study examined the roles that these various stakeholders played in the partnership and explored the extent to which the partnership builds capacity amongst its stakeholders. The research adapts the concept of civic capacity (Stone, Henig, Jones, & Pierannunzi, 2001) and narrows it to focus on this particular school-university partnership as the unit of analysis in order to study the extent to which capacity may be built within a particular school-university partnership which intends to use collaboration as a means to reform science teaching. The building of capacity was examined through four key elements which have their roots in Stone et al.'s (2001) civic capacity framework. The essential elements for building capacity explored include (a) shared vision of goals for the partnership; (b) cross-sector mobilization of a coalition; (c) proper mix and amount of resources; (d) appropriate and detailed plan. It was found that the partnership's strengths are its ability to enlist a wide variety of stakeholders from various sectors of the community around the idea of improving science education in schools. The partnership was also able to garner a proper mix and amount of resources, which many stakeholders viewed as a success. However, the stakeholders had a diffuse vision of the desired goals and outcomes of the partnership which affected the ability of the stakeholders to mobilize around a shared concern. Further, in terms of civic capacity, the community in which the partnership is situated within has provided a weak infrastructure, that negatively affects the building of capacity within the partnership. These findings emphasize the need for those forging partnerships in education to build an infrastructure that will ensure that all stakeholders are meaningfully engaged and a plan is in place to develop broad and generalized agreement in the direction and magnitude of the reform.