Catherine Jordan

CATHERINE JORDAN:

OK.  Catherine Jordan and that’s Catherine Jordan.  I’m program manager with the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory in Austin, Texas.  Our primary responsibilities are, uh, heading up the work for the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools.

Ok.  Um, some of the things that we have learned over the last few years in terms of working with collaborative teams in school and community’s settings are, the importance of shared leadership between all of the players that are involved in the collaborative effort.  Um, and by that we mean, uh, school people, community people as well as family members.  Uh, another factor that we, uh, have found to be important in collaborative action teams is building relationships and trust among those various groups of school, family and community representatives.  Uh, the kinds of relationship in which people honor and respect each other’s voices and work together as equal partners.  Those are two of the major factors that we have found to contribute to successful collaborative teams.  I think a third thing that we have learned is that it is difficult work.  Uh, often we find that people it would just be so much easier if I could do this by myself, if I didn’t have to bother with all of these other people, these family members, these teachers, these administrator, these, uh, community leaders.  And, um, we have learned that through the process of working and communicating and building trust together that all of those groups working together strengthen the initiatives to increase, uh, student achievement, um, and to build support, uh, for the schools in the community.  Interestingly enough I have worked with school districts in which, um, the administrators or teachers were very doubtful at the beginning about whether collaborative apply---approaches would really contribute very much to their particular situation.  And, uh, over time we have found that they often come to embrace the work.  Um, in one particular school district, in Arkansas, we had a superintendent who himself, uh, became very enamored with the whole collaborative action team process and was able to see that it could benefit his school district.  And, um, a bond election that he was very interested in getting passed, and he used strength of that, uh, collaborative network of family, community and, uh, school people and was able to get a very successful bond issue, uh, passed.  In other communities we’ve seen, uh, benefits.  There was a community in, uh, Texas along the Mexico border in which, interestingly enough, um, all of the school board meetings, forever, had been held in English.  Ninety-nine percent of the students and the families in the schools in that particular community were Spanish-speaking.  And no one had ever thought to question whether or not this was appropriate until a collaborative action team began to work and began to form and to---began to think about, um, how things were done.  And they held many of their meetings and conversations, uh, in English and in Spanish.  And came up with the idea that, wouldn’t it be a good thing if our school board, if our elected officials, did the same thing.  So at one of the meetings of the school board, uh, a parent who had been in the country for a very short period of time, um, uh, was elected, I guess, to, uh, make a presentation to the school board in English and she had worked for many hours to do that.  And, uh, the chairman of the school board was so impressed with her effort to speak to them in English that she, um, uh, encouraged her when she broke down and slipped into Spanish, uh, by going ahead and translating the rest of her remarks for the rest of the, uh, school board.  As it turned out, uh, from that day forward to the present those school board meetings are held in both English and Spanish.  So those are some of the kinds of simple things, um, such as changing the way a school board conducts it’s business, to something as big as, um, getting a bond election passed.  Um, we’ve also seen collaborative teams be able to make an impact on the learning environment in the school and, uh, begin to share ownership and responsibility in, uh, increasing the student achievement and seeing that their environment that supports that and that supports teachers in learning, um, exists in a particular school district.

Well I---the---that’s an interesting question because, um, in my mind they are so integrated that it is very difficult for me to separate, uh, (Interrupted) separate them out.  Um, but I think, um, the ability to be able to work together and to, uh, break down, um, barriers to begin to be able to share leadership and to come up with, um, a shared vision and work through the process of setting goals and objectives that support that vision, um, and then taking the appropriate actions.  To follow through and to see that those things are accomplished are what we are talking about when we talk about action.  It goes beyond simply working together.  It goes beyond what we traditionally think of as networking and where we simply get together and we’re nice to each other and we share ideas with each other and maybe cookies and punch.  But then---and it goes even beyond what we often talk about in terms of, uh, cooperation, where you and I may agree that we’re going to do a function in the school together and we’re going to cooperate on how that occurs.  Um, it goes beyond what we traditionally think of in terms of coordination, uh, in, uh, various activities. Where we basically are checking with each other before, uh, I launch off and initiate a program or before you do.  But when we talk about collaborating we are talk about---talking about, uh, truly being equal partners in the decision making process, and taking joint action.  Um, and we talk in terms of---of, uh, community organizations, schools and families all integrating and taking those kinds of joint actions together.

Um, in 1990, um, I was in, uh, Waco, Texas, of---which is a community of about 200,000. (Interrupted)

Lighted schools of---was a program that I was fortunate to be involved with in Waco, Texas.  Um, we, uh---uh, worked as a---a group of community leaders who became concerned about the fact that, uh, the schools in that community had very low academic performance.  Um, had one of the highest juvenile crime rates in the state of Texas, um, as well as one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the United States for a city that size.  Uh, the community, uh, members, family members as well as school representatives came together to begin to think about how we might address those issues. And, um, uh, formed what we called, um, The McClinton---McLennan County Youth Collaboration, which was a collaborative, non-profit organization that was designed to bring all of those groups together to address the issues I just mentioned.  Um, in doing so we decided that, uh, we needed to address, uh, a number of issues related to high poverty in teen pregnancy, in juvenile crime as well as academic issues.  And so a collaborative was formed in which approximately 100 community organizations began working together on middle school campuses to provide support to, uh, families and to students who were, um, low performing or involved in some of these, uh, behaviors.  It, um, over a period of years, um, those, um, programs were able to significantly impact, uh, student performance in terms of grades, uh, in terms of test scores as well as, uh, re---showing some results in, uh, reducing, um, juvenile crime in the community.  After working with the integrated approach of services on school campuses for several years it became obvious that we were simply sending kids home from school, often to empty homes, to televisions, to crime in the streets, and based on the fact that our, uh, juvenile crime, uh, people in the community were telling us that the, uh, greatest, um, amount of juvenile crime occurred between the hours of 3:00 and 7 or 8:00 PM in the evening, we decided that the approach---one of the---that we would like to take would be to offer some kind of initiative in the after school hours.  So, uh, as it turned out, the Pugh Charitable Trust of---were taking proposals at the time for partnerships for civic change.  And we were fortunate enough to be one of ten cities in the United States that were chosen to develop partnerships that would look at what single thing could you do that would most im---bring about change in your community.  Our community, and the collaborative that I’ve described, chose to work on after school issues and designed an initiative called, ‘The Lighted School,’ which in fact turned out to be one of the forerunners of the current 21st century community centers program.  Um, through collaboration that involved a major university, Baylor University, a hospital, um, an art center and a city recreation program, we were able to offer a wide range of services, um, academic enrichment, um, activities for students initially, and over time, uh, to expand that to include, uh, family members, um, with job training, um, enrichment activities for family members.  Health clinics on four middle school campuses, um, to which parents as well as students were welcome.  And eventually we were able to expand those health services to the community surrounding, um, those particular schools.  Um, it was, uh, again, a very exciting program, but it demonstrated the power of an ecol---collaborative initiative.  What was accomplished in those after school programs, uh, could not have been accomplished by any one of the entities, uh, that was involved, alone.  And by working together they were to provide, um, much more, uh, extensive services for families, for community members, and for the students.  Again, uh, much as we had seen in earlier work of that particular collaborative, there was, uh, uh, impact on student achievement, uh, in terms of grades, uh, test scores, improved student attendance as well as behavior.  But I think one of the, uh, side benefits was the support that was gained in the community for those schools.  Um, one of the things that was important was that the program would be sustained, uh, once the funding ended.  And we are now looking at about, uh, ten or twelve years of that program being able to sustain itself.  And part of the strategy was that, uh, those partners who bought in as equal members of the collaborative agreed to continue providing the services, uh, on the school campuses when the funding ended.  So today, the hospital, the university, the city recreation program, arts, are all still on those campuses, still working with the students, uh, in The Lighted Schools.  And at this time it is expanded to include many additional schools.  But it’s one of the---one of the really great examples that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, uh, where collaborations have been able to---build the trust that was necessary, develop a vision for what they wanted to accomplish, uh, learn to cooperate, to coordinate, and move beyond that, but to the point where they were sharing leadership and responsibility in developing detailed action plans for what they wanted to accomplish in their community.

Um, well I think, um, one of the problems that, uh, we have faced in all of the collaborative, our work that I’ve done, is that it is much more difficult than we ever anticipate that it’s going to be.  And it is never simple, um, it takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment, and a lot of effort.  Um, I think often turf issues come into play when you are bringing, uh, partners from a wide range of, uh, community and family, uh, groups.  Um, we found that in working with a hospital and art center, a city recreation program, parents and school representatives, that we basically had people who were thinking and talking in five different languages.  And that was a major, uh, obstacle to overcome in order to be able to reach, um, understanding and to be able to build the kind of trust that was needed in order to share leadership.  I think another obstacle that all---has---is often significant, and that is, uh, we encounter, frequently, what I call ‘school centered approaches’ in which schools are, uh, thinking about these collaboratives in terms of what they want and what they need, uh, for---for their students and for the personnel in the school.  And we have found that when we focus on the needs of only one of the entities involved, in a collaborative initiative, that things do not go as smoothly as when we look at what are the needs of the students, their families, and the surrounding community members.  So I think that is an obstacle that we need to overcome.  For many years, community schools, um, a---full service schools, um, have, uh, have been initiated all over the country and they are---it is not a new idea, but it is amazing in working with school districts and with administrators how, um, new it is for many, uh, administrators.  And I think that unless the superintendent, the school board and the principal, uh, of a particular school are all on board, not just saying, ‘this is a good idea,’ but who are truly on board and committed it---committed to collaborative, uh, processes.  Um, these kinds of collaborative efforts will not work without their support.  So I think one of the real, um, challenges that faces us is how to educate our administrators, um, our classroom teachers, our school board members as well as parents and community, about the benefits of collaborative approaches, full service, uh, schools, and um, or community approaches.

Well, um, my vision of, um, productive family, community relationships in schools, um, is similar to what I have just described as a full service school, uh---or community school concept.  And as I said, this idea has been around for 40 or more years and has been strongly supported by the C.S. Mott Foundation in Flint, Michigan, who’s produced many; many wonderful materials that help schools do this.  Um, those schools generally, uh, are responsive to the needs of the community and to family members, to the needs of the students and have the kind of shared vision and shared leadership that I’ve been talking about here this afternoon.  Um, they also are, um, culturally sensitive, uh, to the needs of the family members in the communities that they are involved in and are generally what I describe as family and community friendly schools.  Um, where we are with this is that, uh, there are many, uh, community schools across the United States and as, uh, the U.S. Department of Education, the Congress have made, uh, funding available for 21st Century Community Learning Centers, um, those community schools have expanded and, uh, we are seeing many more.  So there is growth and development.  But one of the things that we are finding is that the growth and the development in the field is, um, outpacing the research on, uh, community schools and on collaborative initiatives and family and community partnerships.  And so one of the things that we are envisioning is, um, expanded research that will support these programs, uh, as they are built with the kind of researched based knowledge that they need to be able to move forward.  Um, it’s surprising to me that we know a great deal about, uh, what---what works and we know a pretty good amount about how to go about initiating it and doing it.  But what we lack is the strong research base that will allow us to, uh, persuade, uh, policy makers and others of the importance of this concept of community schools.  I have difficulty understanding why community schools have not been more readily embraced, um, given their track record, um, as a major school reform strategy.  And so, um, I have come to the conclusion that it has more to do with public will and building public will for community schools and after school initiatives for all of our children.

Well, uh, the benefits are---are numerous for, uh, ev---all of the players in this kind of collaborative.  Um, you know, basically, uh, collaborative partnerships contribute to better schools, better learning environments, greater support for, uh, teachers, uh, in some cases even the passage of bond elections that, uh, can help strengthen schools economically.  Uh, for communities it makes for more livable, uh, communities.  It provides opportunities for networking and engagement across a broad range of cultures.  Uh, in a community, it makes a stronger community.  Chambers of Commerce love, uh, these kinds of approaches that result in better schools because it, uh, improves local economies.  And so---and per---and potentially expands the work force and---and job opportunities.  So there are benefits, uh, to the local community and especially to business communities and others.  And clearly, to families, their opportunities, um, are expanded, uh, when their communities have better economic opportunity and have, uh, improved schools. And obviously students, uh, clearly benefit, uh, when the whole community is working together to improve results for all of the children in the community.

Well, I think, um, the important thing to do is to---to be able to, um, get a broad range of people who will agree to work with you on a collaborative, um, action team.  Um, in many of the collaborative action teams that I’ve worked with we, uh, began by going through the process of identifying who are the people in the community that should be a part of an effort like this.  And one of the that I always advise people, of course, is don’t leave your superintendent out (laughs) uh, you’ll be surprised how many times I’ve found groups of teachers of family members or grass roots organizers, who want to work together among themselves, but neglect the inclusion of decision makers such as the superintendent, the principal, the mayor, the county judge, if that’s the particular system, um, and it is critical to have a mix of both decision makers as well as, uh, (background noise) grass roots community people, family members, uh, te---uh, school personnel, not only teachers, but cafeteria people, uh, janitorial staff.  There are m---e---myriad numbers of kinds of people. And I so---so I think that the first step is to find others who are interested in working together and to, uh, find as representative a group of people as possible to begin coming together and looking at what are the issues we are facing?   What are the needs that we have in this community?  Um, how might we go about addressing them?  Who needs to be involved in order to help us address those?  And then, beginning to develop a shared vision and a shared way of working with each other that leads to very specific action steps.

Well, I think, um, health services, uh, would certainly be one of the--- (interrupted)

One of the---the greatest advantages of providing, um, services from a variety of organizations in the community is, um, such things as; of health services, uh, expanded mentoring programs, of sometimes expanded academic, uh, tutoring services, um, support, uh, from, uh, many of the traditional youth development organizations, such as the ‘Y’, um, the Boys and Girls Clubs, um, are all able to come, uh, to schools and to provide support, um, through the 21st Century Community Learning Programs.  Many of these kinds of ‘outside,’ if you will, organizations are able to come to the school campus and work to support the regular school day curriculum in or---through their various activities and enrichment opportunities as well as academic improvement services, um, to improve student achievement.  And so I would say that all of those things, student achievement, health care, youth development services, are all st---the kinds of things that can come to, uh, children as a result of collaborative efforts and outside organizations, uh, coming and working with students in the schools.