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Building Strong Partnerships: Strategies that Work

POSTED ON October 9, 2019

Highline Community Partners Roundtable Part II

by Anne Arias

In our June blog post, we reflected on ideas from a spring gathering of the Highline Public Schools Community Partners Roundtable, facilitated by Community Partnership Specialist Nikki Fogerty, where leaders from community partners shared what schools do to make them feel valued and included.

At that same meeting, community partners brainstormed effective strategies to build or strengthen partnerships with schools. As a new school year is beginning, it seems timely to share some of these ideas and related tools from the School Community Partnership Toolkit. I was not surprised that communication strategies were mentioned more than anything else – communication is often one of the most challenging areas of partnership, and one of the most important things to invest in!

When I was a first-time after-school program director at an elementary school in the North Bronx, I remember one of the most important lessons I learned was that building a strong program and partnership requires intentional communication – with a key leader and decision-maker (in my case, the school principal) and community stakeholders (e.g. teachers whose classrooms we shared, parents and guardians, school custodians, principal’s secretary). Why? Because one of the ways to build a program and partnership that lasts is to tell your story.

  • Build relationships and find people who will champion your program
  • Communicate strategically about your vision and goals
  • Document the history of your partnership so future stakeholders can learn about your successes and challenges, and build on existing assets
  • Be accountable to your stakeholders by sharing strengths, growth, and outcomes
  • Inspire people to contribute funds and resources

With sustainability in mind, here are the Roundtable’s recommendations, and some tools to support you as you engage in this important work.

Mapping Needs & Assets

  • “Finding a designated partner to be our advocate and main line of communication to spread the word or be our contact to the rest of the community. This could be a teacher, vice principal, office staff or para.”
  • “Having multiple key staff/stakeholders is a must.”

Here are a few tools that could be useful at this stage:

Establishing Partnership

  • “Understanding School Culture and Family Engagement”
  • “Being able to find time with Principals to sit down and build new partnerships has been a challenge. We became more flexible to meet their needs.”

Here are a couple tools that could be useful at this stage:

Working Together

  • “Building strong relationship with teachers, office staff and administration.”
  • “Sending communication that highlight your work to the school and district.”
  • “Holding open houses for school staff to see your programming.”
  • “Sending newsletters regularly.”
  • “Including pictures in our emails to refresh people’s memories and highlight work.”
  • “Helping to support other clubs/student activities besides our own.”

Here are a couple tools that could be useful at this stage:

What’s a strategy you’ve used to build strong partnerships? And, keeping sustainability in mind, how have you operationalized that strategy within your organization, so that others can carry the work forward if/when you leave your current role? We’d love to hear your stories. Email me at if you have a partnership building story to share or an idea for a new tool to support others in their partnership efforts.