The School Collective

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

An excerpt of an article from the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal highlighting the work of the Allegheny West Consortium to read the entire article click here

School Groups: A Case Study

As earlier mentioned, The School Collective encourages the schools they work with to form partnerships with one another. They have recently been involved in the creation of a unique partnership known as the Allegheny West Consortium (AWC). It will be interesting to calculate the social return on investment of this partnership after its inaugural year. The consortium consists of the William Penn Charter School (independent school), St. James School (Episcopalian parochial school), LOGAN Hope (Cambodian street school), Bayard Taylor Elementary (Philadelphia School District school),Wissahickon Charter School (charter school) and the University Community Collaborative at Temple University. The Consortium brings together a unique mix of public and private schools in addition to a university group.

Penn Charter had served as one of The School Collective’s test schools, and Goodner continued to maintain a close working relationship with Jim Ballengee, the director of service learning at the school. Community service is an important component of the school through which students are encouraged to engage in service as much as possible. There are different community service projects offered each day after school, in addition to unique service classes and weekend events. Penn Charter already had existing individual partnerships with the St. James School, LOGAN Hope, Bayard Taylor and the University Community Collaborative. Ballengee wanted a way to combine these partnerships so they could all benefit from each other. Given the distinct differences between each of these organizations, he realized he would need Goodner’s help to figure out their distinct cultures and ultimately the most efficient and effective way for them to collaborate.

When approached with this potential project, Goodner was very interested, especially because she had childhood roots in the Allegheny West community of Philadelphia. However, while there was good geographic and historical partnership reasonsfor these schools to work together, she was looking for more. Goodner wanted to understand the successes and challenges of each school to get a better idea of how they could partner together in an impactful and sustainable way. In July 2012, the principals of all of the schools involved visited all of the school sites together to learn more about the challenges that each school environment was facing, as well as their greatest assets and barriers. Immediately, there was clear evidence that this partnership could help maximize the strengths of these schools and also support one another in filling the gaps. The leaders of these schools met together bimonthly for a year to strategize about this partnership and think about what programming and tools would maximize their work. Two key points emerged: they needed to focus on teacher empowerment and character strength development among the students, and they wanted their teams and their students to play the integral roles in driving this project.

The Consortium started with the student group, which held its first event on April 13, 2013, a community cleanup day with students from each participating school. After the day’s activities, they held a discussion with the students about what they thought were the strengths of their individual schools and what they thought they could do to improve their neighborhoods and larger communities. The success of this event gave proof of principle, and the AWC summer planning meeting led to an outline for the year’s programming.

An AWC teacher network and an AWC student network would be formed. Each school would  havethree to five teachers represented in the network and five to ten students. The teachers would come together three times a year to share a professional development experience driven by their interests. In between these sessions, the teacher network would utilize The School Collective to share resources and lesson plans and continue the dialogue around the topics addressed in the professional development sessions. The AWC student network would also come together three times a year to share a service learning experience that served the Allegheny West community.  In addition, with the support of Temple’s Community Collaborative, the students would build relationships with one another as neighbors invested in the growth of their communities.

While The School Collective understands the significance of this work, it also understands that there is little surplus money in current school budgets to invest in this sort of unique partnership. Therefore, as they have with other partner schools, The School Collective is helping the AWC write a grant proposal to secure the money to sustain this school group partnership. Finding grant money does not prohibit them, however, from thinking about what the next steps will be for the Consortium. “Our hope is that we continue to build this Consortium for what we think is needed, not for what we think we can fund,” said David Kasevich, head of St. James School. “We could do a lot together by sharing resources between our schools.”

By building relationships with one another, each of these schools can learn much from each other experience. This is a realization that has shone through innovative partnerships like the AWC. “Nowhere else in the city of Philadelphia is a faith-based middle school, a well-established Quaker school, a public school, an independent Christian street school, a university and a charter school coming together to collaborate,” saidKasevich. “You don’t see cross-collaboration amongst different types of schools. So often we say ‘let’s get together with other schools like us.’ While there is a benefit to that, we are thinking differently. We need to understand the different models of education, what is working and what is not.”

If we are to ensure that all students within the city of Philadelphia are exposed to high-quality instruction, and that the city’s teachers are properly supported in order to achieve this outcome, there must be increased collaboration among our schools and teachers. As Goodner argued, “Progress will start with a city that invites key stakeholders to the table, creates a space to share ideas, provides the tools to allow comprehensive collaboration and promotes courage to think creatively about new structures and systems” (Goodner, 2013). By creating The School Collective, Alyson Goodner and Sebastian Stoddart have taken the first steps toward achieving this progress.


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