When thinking of resources for schools, whether it is K-12 or higher education, most people just think of funding and the constant conversations of our state lagging behind others when it comes to funding our schools and also paying our educators.
You certainly can’t ignore the importance and huge necessity of proper funding, but other resources are necessary for the success of our schools at all levels. What schools may lack in financial resources can usually be made up in other ways through partnerships with businesses and organizations of all kinds. The success of education benefits everyone in the area, so all organizations should lend a hand when possible in forming partnerships to help local educational organizations.
The Bible is clear about the importance of working together. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us that “two are better than one because they have a good return on their labor.” While friendly competition and rivalry between schools and communities is a natural part of life, the importance of working together should always overshadow the feeling of any kind of competition. This is one of the many life lessons that gets clearer to me in this phase of my educational career.
I’m sure that there is a much longer list of potential ways to partner with schools, but I would like to highlight just a few that I am convinced helped me immensely as a teacher and administrator for the last 35 years in the education profession:
• First, and very important, would be our local forms of government. Boards of supervisors and/or city councils can do much more than just simply levy taxes to provide a local revenue for schools. When I served as superintendent of education, I was amazed to hear stories from my counterparts across the state about their negative relationship with their local government. The board of supervisors I was fortunate to work with during my tenure served as a true example of how to support their local schools. Local law enforcement agencies – along with all forms of emergency management services – can also have an impact on our schools. In addition to the local government, our state elected leaders have to be on board to help. We are blessed in the Pine Belt to have senators and representatives who are responsive to listen to their constituents. Now that we are in the middle of a legislative session, it is an excellent time to keep track of laws being considered that can have an impact on education.
• Parent organizations within the school system as well as education foundations play such an important role. These groups not only provide extra funding but volunteer an untold number of hours to assist our schools. My first portion of my career was as a high school band director. It’s been 24 years since I held that position, but I am still thankful for the army of parents that filled in so many gaps for our students. My dream is to one day be able to truly thank them for all of their efforts.
• Local businesses and civic organizations come to mind next. Many may think that schools just need them to provide extra financial support, but their partnership is so much more than that. These organizations can become part of the fabric of the school culture and assist with mentoring students and giving feedback to our schools about what skills they need our students to have when they graduate in order to be able to contribute to the economic success of the community. In addition to businesses, local faith-based organizations and churches are important partners. Some may think they have no place in our schools, but their support of our students, faculty and leaders has been appreciated by me over the years in so many ways. Finally, organizations who provide specific and needed services to our students, such as the YMCA, DREAM, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc., are great outlets for students who need outside involvement other than just school.
• One last partnership that bears mentioning is very important. A possible positive outcome of the worldwide pandemic we have suffered through can be the lesson all forms of education learned in working together. This has been such a challenging academic year, and schools have reached out to each other to find out what others are doing to survive. I hope this lesson of collaboration stays with us long after this crisis is over.
I must admit that I never received a budget allotment from the state that I felt was adequate to address the needs of a growing school district. I also have to admit that I stated time after time that, if given the choice between having plenty of money for our schools and having a community who supported their schools in so many ways as partners, I would have chosen the community hands down. As educators, we are all blessed to work and serve in the Pine Belt.
It’s not too late to make a New Year’s resolution. Find a way that you, your organization or your business can partner with a local educational organization. You will not regret it.
Dr. Ben Burnett of Hattiesburg is executive vice president and dean of the School of Education at William Carey University. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.