Creating and Sustaining Successful K–8 Magnet
September 2008
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Build Win-Win Partnerships

Forging strong community partnerships with businesses, nonprofits, universities, and city institutions has helped these magnet schools access additional resources to use in addressing their critical needs. Developing mutually beneficial relationships with local, well-established organizations is one way for schools to drum up fiscally creative solutions and establish a more diverse and stable base of supporters for public education. A distinct feature of each of these profiled schools is the reciprocal nature of its relationships with other organizations. Rather than simply depending on a spirit of altruism or good will, school staff work to generate and maintain partnerships by identifying clear benefits for all participants involved. Thus, many collaborations endure over time, providing low-cost (or even no-cost) professional development, technical assistance, and new grant opportunities that are critical for sustaining magnet school success.

An individual magnet school can help to rebuild a declining neighborhood. Once an underenrolled, low-performing school, Normal Park in its new incarnation as a magnet has transformed its standing in the community and, with its success, has drawn back a number of residents to the surrounding urban area. Realtors who had struggled to sell neglected properties now proudly advertise houses that are "Zoned for Normal Park," using this designation as a selling point. In 2006, parents collaborated with local architects and corporate sponsors to build an intergenerational community park, Discovery Playground, on school property. Conceived of as a fully accessible playground, the park is another tangible symbol of the school's contributions to improving its immediate neighborhood.

Staff at these schools have tapped the potential of community supporters who are eager to collaborate in solving problems or creating new programs. After-school organizations looking to become an integral part of a school's academic intervention and enrichment program seek stable environments with staff who are willing to coordinate support. For example, the after-school program at Combs is now a YMCA program. Combs had created the program with a one-year grant and now needed someone to take it over. The local YMCA was eager to become involved at the site, in part, because of Comb's established success and, in part, because the program was serving English language learners in particular, a group the YMCA also had targeted as needing extra support. Today, the Combs' Achievers is one of the local YMCA's flagship programs. Four of the profiled sites were selected to receive local, state, or federal grants to establish an after-school center, in part, because of their track records as schools. Along similar lines, each of the magnet schools has a history of ongoing partnerships with universities and colleges. Those higher education institutions with teacher education programs leverage the partnership to place their student teachers in high-functioning classrooms and collegial environments that mirror the philosophical approaches of the teacher preparation course work. In return, the schools receive well-trained and well-supported student teachers who, in some cases (e.g., River Glen, Normal Park, and Raymond), are hired directly upon completion of their programs.

Once a magnet school has successfully implemented its program, a principal is in a better position to ask for support. Particularly in the area of technology-where public education often lags behind the advances used and demanded by the workforce—a number of these schools have been able to convince businesses to help them meet their goals of producing innovative, technologically savvy learners. The principals at Combs and Normal Park persuaded some local companies to purchase interactive whiteboards for their classrooms, discovering that people were eager to support a program that has demonstrated measurable success. As Normal Park principal Levine explains, "I find that when people are asked, they want to give to a public school, and they want to be a part of something great." In some cases, a magnet school with an established reputation does not need even to request support. As a well-known magnet committed to fine arts, FAIR benefits from a dynamic where by professional arts organizations—even those without a youth or education focus—now approach the school on their own accord, to pursue special projects and grant opportunities in collaboration with the school. A school brochure highlights the diversity of arts-based partnerships that make FAIR a compelling choice for many families, teachers, and local artists (see fig. 7 on p. 38).

Having community partners involved in the initial planning for a magnet school increases the likelihood that these associations can be tightened in the future. Attracted by the theme and the chance to contribute to a worthy project, early investors—whether of time or money—lay the groundwork for developing a broad base of committed stakeholders who recognize the value of public education and their participation in its efforts. In Clark County, an advisory committee of local organizations, colleges, universities, and businesses was formed to help develop objectives and determine a timeline for implementation of Hoggard's math and science theme. The early involvement of these partners as advisors enabled the school to further cultivate those relationships in building the program.

Figure 7. FAIR (Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource School) Brochure Listing Arts Partnerships

Learning at FAIR

FAIR students study reading, writing, math, science, and other core subjects in an inter-disciplinary, arts-infused curriculum. In addition, all students have the opportunity to take courses in the Fine Arts areas of:

Student playing instrumental music.

  • Movement, Dance, Physical Education
  • Theater
  • Media Arts
  • Visual Arts
  • Literacy Arts
  • Vocal Music
  • Instrumental Music, Band, Orchestra

Artistic Connections

Sharing in the richness of the arts community of the Twin Cities and our region, FAIR School has established growing relationships with professional arts organizations, artist and schools.

Stages Theatre, our resident theatre company, provides classroom instruction, artistic residencies, mainstage play production, and interdisciplinary resources. Other partnerships include:

  • Perpich Center for the Arts
  • Walker Arts Center
  • Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater
  • Artists: Bruce Henery, Larry Long & Sowah Mensah
  • Northern Clay Center/ Kevin Caufield
  • Japanese Taiko Drumming/ Theater Mu
  • Twin Cities Youth Jazz Camp/ Bernie Edstrom
  • Indonesian Gamelon Orchestra/ Joko Sutrisno

For example, the local water district in Las Vegas currently provides all fifth-graders with the opportunity to do water quality testing of Lake Mead and vegetation planting in the Las Vegas Wash region as part of environmental science. A long-standing collaboration with the Community Bank of Nevada has led to the recent development of a schoolwide finance program designed to educate students about savings, money management, and economic concepts.

Parents are key resources for jump-starting local community involvement. They know firsthand what a school provides for their children. In addition to contributing thousands of volunteer hours (which some of the featured schools require) and organizing fund-raising events, parents often work alongside staff to develop relationships with businesses and nonprofits, networking with friends, accessing employer resources, and pursuing new grants. Normal Park's Parent Education Fund was established by parents to help the school "provide a full curriculum, a professional staff, targeted intervention for at-risk students, and an innovativeand equitable approach to education for all." 17 This fund covers the cost of critical academic supports, like the guided reading consultant mentioned earlier or the cost of lab supplies. At River Glen, parents are part of HABLA, a nonprofit advocacy group that also raises funds to pay for critical school needs. In addition, HABLA members meet to discuss community issues, like how to educate the public about the benefits of dual immersion. Even at sites without a significant neighborhood population, in large counties, or at an interdistrict school where transportation issues limit the PTA from meeting frequently, families are still likely to be the most vocal and articulate supporters of their children's schools. Through their word-of-mouth advertising and networking, they can also help make critical connections with local businesses, individual donors, and foundations that help secure additional dollars.

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Last Modified: 09/28/2009