As the school year winds down and we start thinking about, and planning for next year, there’s always a question about priorities. That question always depends on your job responsibilities. With few exceptions, part of your list of priorities are dependent on resources that are not covered in the school district budget. That’s where community engagement begins and often where discussions about working with local businesses and organizations starts to take shape.

When you begin thinking and talking about and with those organizations, that’s often where the challenge begins. The reason is, every school and department in your district had the same idea. They all have, or want to reach out to try and partner with local businesses, non-profits and other community organizations. One of the first questions raised is what organizations are partnering with your school district and with which school(s) and department(s) are they working.

Like a lot of school districts we talk to, this conversation leads to the question, ‘Does your district have a partner strategy and how do you define it in terms that all stakeholders understand?’ Depending on who we are speaking with they say either there is not a strategy, or there’s a strategy that was approved by the Board of Education, but no actions have been taken to operationalize the strategy.

If you look up the word, ‘operationalize’ what you’ll find is a range of definitions, but they revolve around the idea of finding a way to determine the success or outcome of a process which cannot be directly measured. What it boils down to is – deciding what direct indicators to measure; ensuring everyone is aware of and onboard with the need to measure these indicators; and establishing goals and processes to review and improve these measured indicators over time.

When the term operationalize is applied to partner strategy that often means putting in place measurements to answer questions like:

  • Who are the partner organizations that work with our district and schools?
  • What resources can/do they provide to improve outcomes of students, staff and campuses?
  • Which schools and district departments do those partners work with?
  • Do those resources match the needs our schools/departments have identified?
  • What outcomes or results are attributable to partners working with a school or department?

With the data to inform and answer these questions you can begin to gather the feedback that helps answer the most important question – ‘Is our partner strategy having an impact on school and student outcomes and what can we do to improve those outcomes over time?’

Whether your district is still wondering if it should invest in developing a partner strategy; you have one in place, but not in action; or you’ve already got a variety of systems to help gather and track the data needed to operationalize your strategy, we would welcome the chance to talk with you.