The DeHavilland Blog

Friday, July 21, 2006

Standing corrected

I had a call yesterday from Annabelle Suddreth with the local school district’s Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP), who had seen my previous post referring to her office and wanted to challenge me on it.

I first met with Annabelle back in January, when I was still exploring the initial concept (a newsletter on business/education partnerships) that ultimately led to the launch of the Business/Education Partnership Forum. She was encouraging and helpful then, and she was gracious on the phone yesterday despite what was essentially an attack on her office. That’s to her credit, and I’m happy to correct the record here.

Despite my assertion, the OSP is certainly willing to loop in business partners at any level at which they’ll commit: they’re more than happy to see someone walk in with grand plans and a big commitment, as long as those plans align with the needs of the schools and they believe the potential partner has the means and the sense of commitment needed to see it through.

In the case I had written about, it was the business that wanted to start out at a more basic level of commitment, not the OSP steering them in that direction. That was my assumption, and I was wrong (you know what they say about assumptions, right?). So I apologize for that. And I also agree with her argument that, for a volunteer or group of volunteers that want to get involved but don't have a clear idea as to how, classroom volunteering is a good initial step.

I will stand by one of my other points, which is not a reflection of the OSP but of what I’ve seen of business/education partnerships in general. And that is that we have a long way to go in fully leveraging the talents of the business community to support education. While the local school district has a dedicated office to facilitate such relationships, 60% of school districts do not have anyone dedicated to partnership development, according to a 2000 survey by the National Association of Partners in Education. And a great deal of work needs to be done in general to help both educators and businesses understand the value and mechanics of good partnerships.

Further, while I have seen countless instances and variations of classroom-based partnerships across the country, I could count on one hand the partnerships I’ve seen with school administration. Schools may not be businesses, but they do need to perform numerous business functions, from payroll to foodservice to fleet management. So why not work with businesses that have expertise in these areas, since they may help improve operations and identify efficiencies? Better operations means that learning can occur with fewer outside snafus, and reducing expenses allows you to move dollars from administration to the classroom.

One such program I've seen comes from the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education, which specifically identifies school administration as a partnership area. They describe their work in this area as follows:

Operation Excellence began as a 5-month long, collaborative effort between 25 business leaders and 13 public school system leaders to examine ways in which the school system can improve the productivity of some of its business processes by capitalizing on the best practices used in business and industry. Four areas were investigated in this initial stage, and recommendations for change and improvement emerged, in the areas of Facilities Management, Financial Management, Baldrige Management and Technology Management.

Many of the recommendations emanating from the business-education partnerships were subsequently implemented, leading to tangible cost savings and operational efficiencies for MCPS. These accomplishments were presented to the Montgomery County Council in November 2004. This program has been a shining example of business-education partnership, and because of the successes achieved, Operation Excellence initiatives continue, in particular because much of this work involves long-term engagement to ensure a collaborative implementation of recommendations.

Efforts this year will focus on:

Fleet management: MCPS is the 17th-largest school system in the country and its fleet of vehicles is substantial. Business is teaming up with MCPS to help the school system run a smoother operation and save money.

Baldrige/process improvement: Area businesses are teaming with MCPS on quality and process improvement issues, as the schools have now scaled the effort across the entire system. Business partners are reviewing implementation plans, offering seminars in best practices and assisting MCPS in pursuit of the National Baldrige Management Award.

As I've said, we have a long way to go - but partnership specialists like Annabelle, and forward-thinking business/education coalitions like MCBRE, are doing their part to help us get there.


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