Importance of Community-Based Partnerships Highlighted at 2019 ADE Summit

Jamie Rayford, Community Resource Partner in Independence County
June 24, 2019

No one person can prepare a student for the transition from the classroom to the workforce. While schools provide crucial career education and community organizations facilitate invaluable prep programs, these must be brought in line with employers’ needs in order to most effectively position the next generation of hirable and desirable employees. Coordinating initiatives between and across these sectors is necessary to strengthen and enhance the workforce pipeline. Community-based organizations must communicate with schools and employers to make sure students are getting the right advice and guidance from all programs.

In Independence County, we’ve developed close ties between the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, school districts in the area, and local employers. I shared the successes of forming community-based partnerships in a presentation at the 2019 Arkansas Department of Education Summit last week.

The Summit, held at the Hot Springs Convention Center from June 18-21, brought together representatives from local colleges and high schools, the area’s top employers, and community organizations for a “one-stop shop” experience.

Presentations and discussions pushed attendees to engage within and across disciplines, sharing experiences and best practices while brainstorming improvements for the future.

As a ForwARd Community Resource Partner in Independence County, I focused on my experience leveraging community-based partnerships to develop the Independence Promise Program. We started the program in 2017 to help the county’s low performing students and those most at risk for leaving high school early. The goal was to improve these students chances of finding fulfilling professional opportunities after school. Using feedback from ForwARd Together Conversations to isolate the community’s priorities, we were able to identify early career training programs that would have the most potential to help these students. A scholarship was the best way to get them involved. Based on partners’ experience and research into similar programs, we worked with local colleges, high schools, and community organizations to figure out logistics, nominate students, and fund scholarships.

After the pilot program showed promising results—including over 150 students earning a collective 648 college credits in the first year alone—we expanded our reach statewide, getting feedback and support from partners who shared in our goals. By March 2018, Governor Hutchinson signed Act 456, which promises to pay $125 per student for up to two career-related courses a semester at any participating Arkansas institution.

A few tips to creating effective community-based partnerships:

  1. In order for these partnerships to form, someone needs to take the first step. This requires initiative and outreach to local and relevant resources, as well as the initial idea or project goal in the first place. While the parameters of the partnership may shift as you continue to listen to others across sectors and experiences, dreaming big in terms of the scope of the project can get the ball rolling and push local resources to previously unimagined heights.
  2. As the partnership develops, don’t forget about your goals. It’s often easy to get caught up in the flow of creativity or the desire to do more, but focusing that energy on specific goals can foster original plans of action while improving follow-through and ultimate success.
  3. Open communication is key, particularly as more people and organizations get involved. Be clear on what commitments are necessary from each partner and repeatedly evaluate both yourselves and others according to those agreements. This includes celebrating when goals are met and giving credit to those who helped reach them.

Focused and honest collaboration between school districts, community organizations, and local employers can close the knowledge gap in the workforce. If mutual goals are recognized across sectors, and each partner’s skillsets and resources are utilized effectively, the next generation of employees will be better equipped to not only get hired but to thrive in their careers.

Check out the Independence Promise Program toolkit and the IMPACT Education Summit toolkit to learn more.