THE POWER OF SCHOOL Community collaboration in Dropout Prevention

11/19/2010  |  Franklin Schargel

The job of running schools is too complex for schools to do it alone. For any school program to assure the high academic achievement of all children, there must be an active partnership between the school and community to address the social and personal, as well as the academic needs of children. But a disconnect exists between educators and community people. Educators tend to see educational reform as focused on promoting the academic achievement of young people. While community builders (and some educators) focus on academic achievement in a broader context that includes social and personal development.
The Sense of the Geese illustrates the key elements of collaboration.

(This material has been extracted from “Helping Students Graduate: A Systemic Approach for Dropout Prevention by Dr. Jay Smink and Franklin Schargel, Published by Eye on Education.)

Most reform has focused on academics but has failed to make the community connections necessary to address the broader needs of students. Even in a time of economic prosperity, many young people may be left behind because they lack the support networks that youths in more advantaged communities take for granted. Disadvantaged youths may not experience the benefit of business people and community leaders as mentors, participate in community cultural or recreational activities, receive quality medical care, or have help addressing family or personal problems (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2000). To keep young people in school and help them achieve greater academic success, their family, social, work, and academic needs all must be addressed. Schools can no longer be islands in communities with no bridges to the main land. Bridges must be built to connect schools, homes and communities. Districts must plan strategically to keep students in school by focusing on strategies that go beyond the classroom. The very foundation for these strategies must be school–community collaboration.

Strategies for dropout prevention work best when built on a foundation of school–community collaboration and implemented in the context of a strategic plan. A systems approach is needed to give attention to the infrastructure that supports program delivery. Without that emphasis, schools and communities generally end up with a smorgasbord of prevention efforts that lack unanimity of focus, direction and effectiveness. A single strategy — tutoring a child having difficulty in a subject area or counseling a child with a problem — may help in the short run. But for the duration, multiple strategies must be applied strategically and over time to keep students in school and achieving at high levels. A community-wide dropout prevention system provides an interconnected web of supports for youth and families. A school that develops a plan on its own — without establishing a strong working relationship with parents, community agencies, faith-based organizations, businesses and civic organizations — diminishes its chances of success.

Community collaboration is not an option. It is the driving force for developing the supports that enable children and youth to learn and succeed and help families and communities thrive.

The Sense of the Geese illustrates the key elements of collaboration.

When geese head south for the winter they fly along in small groups or flocks in a “V” formation. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock achieves a greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

  1. Collaborative groups share a common vision, purpose and direction.
  2. Collaborative groups are composed of interdependent stakeholders.
  3. Successful collaboration is done in smaller groups rather than large groups.
  4. Successful collaboration requires consensus on all agreements for action. If a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone; quickly, it gets back into formation to take advantage of the power of the flock.
  5. Collaborative groups are inclusive, drawing power from individual strengths.
  6. Collaboration is characterized by achieving more through the group venture than each partner could have achieved alone.
  7. Shared information gives power to the collaborative. When the goose that is leading the flock tires, he rotates back in the wing and another goose assumes the lead position.
  8. Successful collaborative groups are self-governed with facilitative, shared leadership. The geese honk from behind as they fly to encourage those up front to keep their speed. When a goose gets sick or is wounded by a gunshot from a hunter and falls out, two geese fall out of the formation and follow the injured goose down to help and protect him. They stay with him either until he is able to fly or until he is dead; then they link up with another formation to catch up with their group.
  9. Collaborative members encourage and support one another to energize the collaborative and keep it moving forward.
  10. Collaborative groups have the power to implement final actions.
  11. Collaborative members are committed to the individual, the group, and the process.
  12. Collaborative members are committed to work over the long term.

School–community collaboration should be deployed within the context of a strategic plan, with specific goals of the collaborations focused on early intervention, core basic and classroom strategies. Collaboration is a difficult task, with many barriers to overcome. However, the resulting communication among community agencies and schools, unity of vision within the community, integration and enhancement of agency services, and community support of common goals are well worth the effort. School–community collaboration is essential to providing the comprehensive academic and social services needed for youth at risk of dropping out of school to succeed academically and in later life.

Franklin P. Schargel is the President of The Schargel Consulting Group, an educational and training consulting organization interested in Building World Class Schools. He can be reached at [email protected].

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