Proof Positive that Partnerships Transform the Education Experience
By: Marva Jones
Six months ago, I continued my work on behalf of our state’s students and families as I began working at the Ohio Department of Education. As I reflect upon my first 180 days, I remain energized by the Department’s focused efforts, actions and determination to make a difference in the education community. My experience thus far has continued to allow me the opportunity to sink my teeth into more of Ohio’s strategic plan for education, Each Child, Our Future.
One of my through line career goals (which I call Marva’s Main Missions) has been to maintain and develop respectful and trustworthy relationships – in essence, build partnerships.
Each Child, Our Future states that everyone, not just those in schools, shares the responsibility of preparing children for successful futures. I have been fortunate enough in my career to have worked on several partnerships which mirror this fundamental theme outlined in Ohio’s strategic plan for education.
- During my tenure in Warrensville, we partnered with South University. Eighth grade boys were paired with faculty and staff to sharpen the students’ ideas about life after high school into real aspirations. The faculty mentored these youngsters every other week for a semester. These young boys became young men during the half a year by building their relationships into a strong partnership. The boys took part in several activities, such as attending the college course taught by their mentor, introducing the mentor to their families, enjoying dinner or a sporting event together and inviting the mentors to their own eighth grade class.
- As a curriculum director in Massillon City Schools, I partnered with the library, district staff, parents and the entire community to focus our efforts on preventing the summer slide in literacy. Everyone was involved in donating books to the library. In turn, adults borrowed these books so they could be models for the students in their homes and neighborhoods. The students would read for small prizes and activities that occurred at the library during the summer. Eventually this turned into bonus points at the start of the school year.
- In Canton City Schools, we partnered with philanthropic organizations. Most notably I worked with the Sisters of Charity in a program called Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK). SPARK is a family-focused program designed to prepare children for kindergarten. The program offers free in-home visits with parents and caregivers to prepare 4-year-old children for kindergarten and future success in school. SPARK coaches provided new books, art and school supplies to families when they visited. During the regular visits, the coaches modeled skills and behaviors for parents so they could continue supporting their children when the program ended. In a simple twist of fate, 15 years later when briefly working at The Literacy Cooperative in Cleveland, I supervised the coaches for the SPARK program. The authenticity of the program and purpose had not lost its effectiveness.
- A partnership with the city of Massillon and civic organizations highlighted the importance of performing well on an annual academic test. Dream It, Believe It, Achieve It became a mantra for all students, and the city embraced and echoed the theme of student success. When the time came for students to “show what they know” on the test, a banner for academics (not athletics) was hung across the main street in downtown Massillon. There was no doubt that the city was dreaming and believing all students could achieve greatness.
- Based on my studies in mental health services, I was offered a seat on the Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board. Given the social challenges that our students were struggling with at that time, I was at the table to maintain the effectiveness of this innovative partnership, provide targeted supports and create hope for students and their families.
- As principal of Dueber Elementary, I worked to assist families that needed help beyond what we could offer at school. Well before the 21st century programs that are so common today, we partnered with Dueber United Methodist Church. This partnership connected teachers, parents and the faith-based community to provide tutoring services and a place of refuge for students in a latchkey like program.
These partnerships, and many more, continue to help students and families. Addressing the needs of the whole child starts with parents, caregivers and schools and extends to other government and community organizations that serve children. Sometimes these services are disjointed and siloed, but partners must work together to provide seamless supports. Success requires the collaboration of parents, caregivers and families and the education system, especially the early childhood education community. I have experienced firsthand how partnerships transform the education experience – just as we illustrate in Each Child, Our Future.
Marva Jones is senior executive director for Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Marva by clicking here.