When recently asked, "What is the biggest challenge facing schools?" without hesitation I replied, "21st-century expectations and 20th-century resources."
As a state, we have made incredible progress in setting rigorous and relevant standards for students along with strong accountability systems. As a comparison, think about when you were in school. Do you remember taking district and state tests in every grade, every nine weeks? Recall seeing your local paper list a rank and grade for your school at the same time you took your report card home? Although I remember getting a silver dollar for every "A" I brought home (if I had known the price of silver would go up so high, I would have studied harder), I don't remember plans for school funding to follow my dad's incentive formula.
As a community we are at crossroads; we can either spend our time and energy ranting about our lack of resources or begin to close this gap by creating sustainable school and community partnerships.
I strongly believe we have begun to take the partnership turn. I will share two community partnerships that have provided positive, measurable results in our mission to prepare students to be successful in their life after graduation.
In 2004, we began a partnership with IBM called EX.I.T.E. Camp. The program, Exploring Interest in Technology and Engineering, is a worldwide IBM initiative that encourages seventh- and eighth-grade girls to pursue related careers through mentoring and three days of science and math activities taught by IBM engineers in state-of-the-art labs on the IBM Tucson campus.
Nine years later here are the results:
• 300 EX.I.T.E. camp alumni, 60 percent of 2008 EX.I.T.E. campers, are currently enrolled in one or more high school Advanced Placement classes and hold a collective grade-point average of 3.16.
• 90 percent of 2007 EX.I.T.E. campers are enrolled in four-year colleges.
Another incredible partnership was initiated by Women Leading United, a United Way volunteer organization that developed a program to help address early literacy. This group has provided kindergarten students in two schools with 12 books each for summer reading. The initial results, using those reading tests we never took, are showing very promising results.
These are just two examples of hundreds of partnerships that are occurring between small and large businesses, churches, colleges and nonprofits with Southern Arizona public, private and charter schools. Our partners rarely toot their horns and instead quietly dedicate their energies and resources to making a difference.
It is time to stand up and recognize the incredible impact the partners are making in our Southern Arizona schools.
If you are a parent, take some time to find out which community partners are involved in your school and let them know how much you appreciate their contributions.
If you want to become a partner, contact your local school principal or superintendent.
We have set the expectation bar high for our students; now is the time to match that height with resources leveraged from school partnerships. All it takes is one partner, one school and one project to transform student lives.
Nicholas I. Clement is superintendent of the Flowing Wells Unified School District. Email him at Nicholas.Clement@fwusd.org