Partnerships that enrich transformational leadership
Creating a connection that expands learning opportunities
By Imelda Nava and Marco Nava | November | December 2020
Mary Natan, a Holocaust survivor, sat gracefully in her chair and addressed an auditorium full of school administrators. She told part of her childhood story as a concentration camp survivor. She spoke of the atrocities she witnessed and experienced at the hands of the Nazis and the anti-semitism from ordinary people. Amid the inhumanity, love, hope and fraternity eventually prevailed. Andres Favela, principal at Garfield High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, sat at the edge of his seat, riveted by Mary’s story. Her descriptive and moving storytelling caused Favela to wonder how to cultivate empathy among his staff and students. “As a school site principal, I used this experience and understanding to help change and shape the cultural fabric of my school by weaving together openness to the unknown, celebrating diversity, and the creation of a space where love and respect constantly coexist,” he said. He had participated in the administrator version of Tools for Tolerance professional development at the Museum of Tolerance. This partnership between the museum and LAUSD highlights the importance of community and school district partnerships to provide administrators, teachers and staff with professional learning opportunities that might otherwise be impossible for districts to provide on their own.
Partnerships are essential to providing students with a well-rounded educational experience, whether through direct instruction to them or through the preparation of their teachers and administrators.
Without partnerships, schools and districts run the risk of segmenting a child’s educational experience into a dichotomy of school and home while ignoring the whole child and their place within the community at large (Epstein, 2018). Further, this community asset-based approach can draw on community cultural wealth. Connecting with community-based organizations can access students’ community cultural wealth, such as navigational, familial, resistant, linguistic and social capital (Yosso, 2005). Focusing on a schools-only approach to educating children limits a school community’s capacity to provide the learning experiences necessary for students to succeed (Gross, 2018).

Minority and low-income students are the ones most negatively impacted as the schools they attend generally have lower standardized test scores and are often categorized as Program Improvement schools.
Further, teachers whose students engage in community-based partnerships have the opportunity to see their students learning in other spaces, which may widen their positive expectations of students, especially if they see a student struggling in the classroom and flourishing in a different space. This might affect their dispositions and beliefs about student learning and inform future pedagogical decisions (Richmond, 2017). This article provides insight into some of the partnerships between LAUSD and education organizations in Los Angeles committed to improving student outcomes through direct instruction and professional development for their school leaders and teachers.
Inner-City Arts – EASEL
The public-school educational landscape in California and around the country overemphasizes standardized testing and underfunds arts instruction. Minority and low-income students are the ones most negatively impacted as the schools they attend generally have lower standardized test scores and are often categorized as Program Improvement schools. This further narrows instruction to English Language Arts and Math leaving little time for Arts education. One way that Ana Escobedo, Administrative Coordinator and former Plasencia Elementary School principal, bridged the arts and social-emotional learning was through Mandala Mondays. “As a school, we decided to incorporate Mandala Mondays to start the week with art therapy,” she said. “Students and teachers had an opportunity to share some of the things that caused them stress and worry. As they created shapes that emanated from the center, some of their stress and worry dissipated with every unfurling shape in the mandala.” Escobedo learned this technique and many others through her professional learning at Inner-City Arts. Inner-City Arts is a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging young people in the creative process to shape a society of creative, confident and collaborative individuals. Inner-City Arts have been an education partner with LAUSD for over 30 years. During that time, they have offered direct arts instruction to students and offered professional development to teachers through their Creativity in the Classroom program. In 2015, with grant funding from the California Community Foundation and partnership with LAUSD and the Center for Collaborative Education, Inner-City Arts launched its Education, Arts, and Social-Emotional Learning professional development for school leaders. Principal and assistant principal teams were encouraged to participate. EASEL synergized professional learning standards for administrators and teachers with social-emotional competencies and visual and performing arts standards. Through 30 hours of professional learning, EASEL reflects an effort to incorporate school leadership in arts professional development so school site administrators can support a vision for arts integration. The arts have numerous assets in educational settings, including the potential for differentiation and greater access to curriculum, a means to integrate divergent and creative thinking to problem solve. Also, the arts allow creating accepting learning environments where social-emotional needs, learning and growth can be maximized. Emphasizing the importance of leadership development in this area, Tiffany Owens, Associate Director of Professional Development at Inner-City Arts said: "Professional Development in and about Arts and Arts-Integrated Education is critical for school leaders for several reasons. School leaders largely determine how much and in what ways a school's focus and resources go towards arts education. When school leaders have an authentic, firsthand understanding of the impact that arts education has on students' cognitive development and their creative, critical-thinking abilities, then they are more readily able to support that learning in relevant ways.”
School leaders understand the importance of arts education and social-emotional learning to support student learning. They are eager to find meaningful and relevant professional learning opportunities like those offered at Inner-City Arts. Regarding the most important lesson learned from EASEL, Escobedo stated: “As a leader, it allowed me to understand the urgency to not just address the whole child’s needs but also those of teachers and parents. I realized that I could only do that if I took care of my whole self as well! The impact that EASEL had on my leadership and school site was transformational.”
Los Angeles Maritime Institute – TopSail Youth Program
Providing a high-quality education and enriching experiences for students is an all hands on deck effort. The Los Angeles Maritime Institute has partnered with LAUSD to provide 21st century, STEM and maritime instruction to thousands of students throughout Los Angeles through their TopSail Youth Program. The instruction at LAMI transcends the typical nautical offering. Aboard two tall ships, LAMI staff teach students maritime skills, STEM and science content, team building, problem-solving, self-reliance and leadership. These activities occur at sea between Los Angeles and Catalina Island. Students learn teamwork through activities such as raising and trimming sails together. They learn science connections through marine life observations. Student leadership is developed when they take the helm and steer the ship in the course that they have set. Respect, persistence, patience, integrity and self-discipline are just some of the skills and attributes that are taught and enhanced.
Special education students and English learners are some of the main beneficiaries of the learning as activities are highly interactive and engaging. Gloria Martinez’s Special Day Class students from Rowan Avenue Elementary School quickly gained their sea legs and excelled at learning maritime terminology and practices. This experience allowed them to take leadership roles and take agency over their learning. Regarding a student in class, Martinez said: “TopSail really allowed her to show her independence and bravery on the ship. Being the first to climb the rigging gave her such a sense of accomplishment and it led the way for other students to then follow her.” Captain Bruce Heyman, Executive Director, runs a tight ship and has invested in preparing his staff to deliver high-quality teaching and customer service. Gloria Martinez added: “Their employees were amazingly supportive of my students.” Maritime activities may be out of reach for many LAUSD students for a variety of reasons. Leveraging limited and unique resources through partnerships can expand the reach of these endeavors. Through their fundraising efforts, donations, and grants, LAMI has provided this important educational experience free of charge or at a reduced cost to public schools. Ensuring student success is an all hands on deck effort and LAMI has long been an LAUSD partner in this endeavor.  
Museum of Tolerance – Tools for Tolerance
LAUSD’s mission is to embrace its diversity to educate L.A.'s youth, ensure academic achievement, and empower tomorrow's leaders. To accomplish this mission, and to raise awareness, empathy, and provide school administrators with tools that will be useful in promoting positive school cultures, The Museum of Tolerance and LAUSD collaborated to provide high-quality leadership development to school leaders. Among school-based factors for student learning, school leaders have the second largest impact behind teachers (Leithwood et. al., 2004). Many teachers already participated in the Tools for Tolerance professional development at MOT. This aspect of the professional development was to expand the Tools for Tolerance, recognizing the need for school leaders to build, support and maintain safe, culturally proficient learning environments. Through experiential learning environments, school administrators deepened their understanding of leading work on tolerance, advancing anti-bias education and creating inclusive, equitable learning environments for their school communities. In Spring 2016, 171 LAUSD school leaders participated in the eight-hour training. Collectively, they serve thousands of students, families, and supervise hundreds of employees. The trainings were conducted on Sundays demonstrating the commitment of participants to gain knowledge and skills to combat discrimination, bias, and hate. This study explores the self-reported impact of the training on the administrator’s capacity to better understand bias and create culturally proficient inclusive learning environments. Administrators began the day with a general overview to frame the learning and then proceeded to the Holocaust Exhibit, witnessing the events of Nazi-dominated Europe during World War II. The tour included the Outdoor Café, where Berliners discussed their concerns over the Nazi takeover of Germany; the Hall of Testimony, where stories of courage, sacrifice and compassion are shared; and the Passport Center, where participants learn the story and fate of a child or adult whose passport they are given. After the first part of the session, one participant reflected: “This made me aware of my own bias that I was unaware of. Being aware will make a huge change in my behavior and a better leader.”

At the foundation of any partnership is trust, and all parties must be assured that there is relational trust, not only contractual trust.
In the Point of View Diner, participants watched video scenarios of controversial topics, such as bullying and hate speech. Participants electronically answered questions that probed their responsibility, and the results were immediately tabulated to spark a reflective conversation of their own biases. The morning portion ended when participating administrators had the special privilege of listening to the testimonial of a Holocaust survivor, Mary Natan, a truly inspiring and memorable experience. This portion had a deep impact on Andres Favela, who said: “Hearing a first-hand account of what life was like for a holocaust survivor was an extremely beneficial experience for me not only as an educator but as a human as well. It has deepened my conceptual understanding of racism, genocide, and equity.” School leadership today is much more complex and demanding and administrators must understand the tenets of affirmative introspection, self-governance, intercultural literacy and social engineering to provide effective learning environments for students. Tools for Tolerance assisted administrators in making connections to the equity strands within the LAUSD School Leadership Framework. One hundred forty-eight of the 171 participants completed the end of course survey (87 percent response rate). Survey data indicated that 96 percent of the participants rated the training as very good/excellent. 85 percent of all respondents indicated that the MOT professional development session had a high/very high impact on new knowledge and insights, new attitudes and views, new practices and/or skills, new resources and/or tools, and inspiration and/or motivation. Many indicated that they plan to apply the learning from MOT within their school settings. The impact of this important work is clear: targeted, intentional, high-quality professional development provides school and district leaders with the knowledge and tools they need to properly address inequity and intolerance in their school communities. The experience also builds participants’ ability to respond effectively to the needs of their diverse student populations. Partnerships like this are more important than ever given the current tenor of our national political landscape.
This article outlines the importance of school and community partnerships. Challenges could be related to the demand for administrator time to cultivate these relationships. A more concerted effort to partly centralize the agreement process may be a time-saver for school site leaders. In addition to offering opportunities for learning outside of the classroom and professional development for its leadership and teachers, a community service partnership might be the next step within some of the school-community based partnerships (Geller, Zuckerman & Seidel, 2016). The goal would be to have a transformative vision of community partnership, one that leads to positive transformative development in communities. In essence, the partnerships are intentional and systemic about reaching beyond services, needs and experiences, intending to work toward positive community development (Valli, Stefanski & Jacobson, 2016). The goal of any partnership is sustainability, longevity and success. These require concerted efforts in terms of a plan, shared accountability, continued assessment, reflection and professional development with an honest recognition of successes and challenges (Roche & Strobach, 2019). At the foundation of any partnership is trust, and all parties must be assured that there is relational trust, not only contractual trust. Cultivating relationships takes time and leaders are often challenged to cultivate these relationships, so a team is imperative to this work, one with a concerted effort toward shared goals. Despite the challenges, partnerships have the power to enhance and transform a school community and the broader community, and well worth the effort, especially for students who engage in potentially unique experiences that may have broadened their perspectives, as well as for the partner and school faculty/staff who can also learn from how the students participate and what they bring to light. School sites are spaces where isolated, siloed, elements of a community can converge and partner to maximize a more substantial positive community effect (Nava & Nava, 2020). Together, we create a more cohesive network of community, one that can build on community strengths and thrive.
Epstein, J. L. (2018). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools. Routledge. Gross, B. (2018). Beyond the bell: Leveraging community assets for an expanded learning system. Thinking Forward. Leithwood, K., Louis, K. S., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). How leadership influences student learning. Nava, M.A., Nava, I.L. (2020). Partnerships in practice. In Kochan, F., Griggs, D.M. (Ed.), Creating school partnerships that work. Charlotte, NC. Information Age Publishing. Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race ethnicity and education, 8(1), 69-91.
Geller, J. D., Zuckerman, N., & Seidel, A. (2016). Service-learning as a catalyst for community development: how do community partners benefit from service-learning?. Education and Urban Society, 48(2), 151-175.
Richmond, G. (2017). The power of community partnership in the preparation of teachers. Roche, M. K., & Strobach, K. V. (2019). Nine Elements of Effective School Community Partnerships to Address Student Mental Health, Physical Health, and Overall Wellness. Coalition for Community Schools. Valli, L., Stefanski, A., & Jacobson, R. (2016). Typologizing school–community partnerships: A framework for analysis and action. Urban Education, 51(7), 719-747.

Imelda Nava is a science faculty advisor at the University of California Los Angeles. Marco Nava is an administrator in the Human Resources Division with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
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