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Research to Practice: Strategies for Public School and Faith-based Leaders Building Partnerships for Student Success

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Intersector Project
March 21, 2017

A persistent achievement gap plagues U.S. public schools. Cross-sector collaboration provides one avenue to improving the services of public schools, rallying partners and their resources around acute student needs and, optimally, altering the paths of students’ academic and personal lives, as well as the community’s wellbeing.

In their article, “Supporting African American Student Success Through Prophetic Activism: New Possibilities for Public School-Church Partnerships,” recently published in Urban Education, Diedria H. Jordan, Program Specialist at Guilford County Schools, and Camille M. Wilson, Associate Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Michigan, offer recommended partnership strategies for church and public education leaders—including school principals, counselors, teachers, senior pastors, youth pastors and parent—to promote learning and academic achievement among African-American youth.

Cute african american schoolboy close upJordan and Wilson present findings from case studies of two Black churches in central North Carolina partnering with public schools to provide services to students. One church collaborated with the local school district to offer assistance to all suspended students from a nearby public high school—regardless of church membership status or race—to stay current with school assignments. In this successful partnership, the church provided adult mentors and use of the facility and utilities free of charge, teachers created work packets for students and the school obtained grant funding to pay for one full-time and one part-time position to coordinate the program. Many of the students who participated in the program were never suspended again, Jordan shared in a call with The Intersector Project. The second church’s partnerships included school supplies drives and other initiatives.

Takeaways for Practitioners

  • School staff, who may be connected to the community through membership in civic or faith-based organizations, can offer a wealth of existing networks for potential partnerships between public schools and community organizations. Educators can serve as a bridge between their school and their community. School staff may have not only affiliations with faith-based organizations whose resources and goals might align with school needs, but they may also be members of civic organizations like bowling clubs, sororities or fraternities, which could provide additional assistance to the school, Jordan noted. “If you know your employees, that’s how you extend your community,” she shared. Typically, a school leader is more comfortable when someone from their staff suggests a partnership with a faith-based organization with which they have an affiliation and a rapport with church leaders, she said.
  • Determine what type of program best suits partners’ goals and at what scale the program will be implemented before initiating a partnership. Faith-based organizations should consider what impact they want to have on their community before partnering with schools. For example, a faith-based organization with close ties to a particular school may be aware of a particularly needed service and want to implement that service for that school’s population, as in the program supporting suspended students that the authors studied. On the other hand, some faith-based organizations may want to get involved on a larger scale and provide services or supplies to many schools within a district. School leaders can bring an awareness of resources needed to meet their school’s goals, and through dialogue with faith-based organization leaders, can identify points of synergy for successful collaborative programs. While church-school partnerships can help students succeed, Jordan and Wilson note, “It is just essential that faith-based groups not promote religious doctrine or infringe on the civil rights of public school community members.”
  • Have honest discussions about the resources needed for the collaboration to succeed and the resources each partner is realistically able to give to the collaboration. While some churches may have extensive financial and non-financial resources to share with schools, many will not. Regarding non-financial resources, churches should be careful not to overcommit: “Understanding that Black churches are volunteer institutions, Black church leaders have to ensure that their prophetic endeavors do not overwhelm the volunteers who will be responsible for their operation,” the article explains. Schools should also be open about what it is they’re hoping to get from the partnership. If a faith-based organization interested in partnership doesn’t have financial resources to give, school leaders should ask themselves what non-financial resources can be gained from the partnership. If school leaders can only think of financial resources to be gained from partnership with churches, then that school isn’t ready to build community partnerships, Jordan warned.

For Further Reading

From The Intersector Project’s Toolkit:

  • Share a Vision of Success: The agreement on a set of project goals and ideal outcomes that clarify the mission and priorities of the collaboration
  • Account for Resources: The determination of financial and non-financial resources from existing and potential partners

From Intersector Insights:

Author: The Intersector Project is a non-profit organization that empowers practitioners in the business, government, and non-profit sectors to collaborate to solve problems that cannot be solved by one sector alone. We create accessible, credible, and practically valuable resources that are publicly available in full through our website. Visit us at Intersector.com.

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One Response to Research to Practice: Strategies for Public School and Faith-based Leaders Building Partnerships for Student Success

  1. Jerry Hoddinott Reply

    March 21, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    For a number of years, my church has provided several schools with back packs filled with supplies at the beginning of the school year. During the year we will send snack packs for the teachers and students as well as school supplies like paper, notebooks, pens and pencils. One year we heard of a need for winter coats and were able to provide the school with about 30 coats.

    The needs of the students and schools are great and our church finds a way to help. The schools have been very appreciative of these extras to help meet the needs of the students and classrooms.

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