Dr. Elaine Liftin
When the former Jose Martí School in Miami became Jose Martí MAST 6-12 Academy about two years ago, it had the opportunity to re-invent itself. It did – with help of the Council for Educational Change. The Council is a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the quality of education in public schools across Florida. At a time when school districts are seeing resources shrink, the Council recruits business executives, universities and nonprofits to work with school principals and improve students’ performance in their often-struggling public schools.
Thanks to 23 business partners, Jose Marti was able to assist in the transformation from a middle school to a STEM magnet secondary school, providing real-world experiences for the students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-STEM. The Council helped the school secure grant money to accomplish its mission.
Helping create partnerships between business executives and principals is an innovative concept that the Council developed to tackle the issue of income inequality. By improving the quality of education, especially in low-income neighborhoods, students can aspire to better paying jobs upon graduation and gain access to the middle class.
The Council’s Partnership to Advance School Success (PASS©) program pairs business executives with principals to help them develop the leadership skills often found in successful CEOs. The end goal is a measurable improvement in student performance. The executives contribute their time, talents and leadership strategies to support school leaders and help their schools get better at every level. They may also donate resources to motivate parents and students to participate in activities and build school spirit. Some partnerships are for one year and don’t require a financial commitment from the private partner. Another partnership model is for three years and the business executives commit to an investment of $100,000 to help fund school projects that improve the academic performance of its students. Through State funding, and in partnership with the Florida Department of Education, the Council matches this investment.
Under these partnerships, a CEO assesses the challenges affecting a school and, together with the principal, develops a strategic plan to address those challenges. The CEO mentors the principal throughout the implementation of that strategy and becomes an advisor to the educator, helping develop a leadership team with a shared vision: to help the students succeed.
These partnerships are crucial to improving education in our public schools because principals can’t do it alone. Ask Jacksonville Jaguars President Mark Lamping, who worked with Andrew Jackson High Principal Evan P. Daniels on a mentorship program that Daniels said has been “life changing” for his students – and for Daniels himself.
Principal Wallace Aristide of Miami Northwestern Senior High School steered his school from 14 years of “F” ratings to an “A” rating after joining forces with Miami Parking Authority CEO Arthur Noriega. The partnership led Principal Aristide to increase the school’s graduation rate from 55 to 82 percent, while the number of dual enrollment classes grew from 4 to 14.
“It takes a community to improve a school and the leadership team needs to work on both internal and external forces so all are moving the school forward,” Noriega told the Council recently. “We need to set realistic goals and use the high school experience to prepare students for the future. I volunteer my time to reach every kid – to get them excited to learn and develop into skilled employees.”
In the Tampa Bay area, a partnership between Raymond James Financial and Mt. Vernon Elementary School transformed the failing school into an A school a few years ago. The school recently received an influx of students from a nearby failing school and now Mt. Vernon needs help again. The partnership with Raymond James has been rekindled to develop a strategy that will return Mt. Vernon to an A rating. Not long ago, Raymond James Executive Ron Diner told us why his company has approximately 90 of its employees mentoring at-risk students at Mt. Vernon.
“The future of our children and our country demands that all kids, especially those who need us most, reach their full potential,” Dine said. “The schools cannot do it alone. There are too many children who have too many challenges as a result of their circumstances – single parent homes, homelessness, and foster homes. They need someone they can count on – someone who cares and will listen to them and boost their confidence. With our help as mentors, they are in a better position to learn.”
These partnerships also expose students to real-world experiences. In Palm Beach County, Carver Middle School wants to teach students entrepreneurial skills. So the CEO of It’s Sugar partnered with the principal of Carver Middle School to teach students business skills by developing a new candy, designing the wrapping and planning a marketing campaign. The candy will be sold at It’s Sugar stores and the proceeds will benefit the school.
These are just a few examples of how the private sector is making a profound and immediate impact in our schools. By helping students receive a good education, local business leaders are helping to end the cycle of poverty and ensure the American work force of the future will be prepared to earn – and excel.
The Council’s founder, the late Leonard Miller of Lennar Corp., said: “If every child can get a quality education, every child can succeed.”
The Council also has created other programs to help address critical issues in education. For example, the Council’s new + beginning teacher retention and support programs TEAM (Teacher Empowerment and Mentoring) and TTI (Teachers and Teaching Initiative) have been institutionalized by districts and are now models of best practices in the professional development and retention of new and beginning teachers. The Council also developed and collaboratively implemented an innovative STEM project with the Hillsborough County Public Schools. The Council created a $471,000 proposal grant that was funded by the Helios Education Foundation. The effort created a sustainable professional development program in 17 middle schools that cultivates excellent instructional leaders and strong STEM teams. Vertical STEM middle school curriculum model plans were designed, tested and vetted; they have been disseminated district-wide for 2015-2016.
Thanks to its donors, the Council is able to develop innovative ways to improve our public education. Our donors believe in the Council’s mission, but more importantly, they believe in the right of children to receive quality education and become productive members of our community. With their continuing support, we are able to develop and coordinate the private-public partnerships, and create other valuable programs. But as school districts across Florida become more cash-strapped, the need for more partnerships increases and so does the need for more donors.
Dr. Elaine Liftin is President and Executive Director of the Council for Educational Change, the successor to the South Florida Annenberg Challenge, administering the $100 million educational improvement partnership program.