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School-Business Partnerships That Work:
Success Stories from Schools of All Sizes

Schools and businesses are working together to benefit students, teachers, and entire communities. Successful partnerships can be found across the grades, in schools large and small. Included: Education World's "Principal Files" principals offer ideas, tips for successful school-business partnerships.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, a special business partnership with Cincinnati Bell has transformed Robert A. Taft High School into the Taft Information Technology High School.

At Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida, U.S. Navy personnel from the VP-62 Squadron in Jacksonville, Florida, drop by every Thursday afternoon to assist students in grades 4 to 6 and to support the school's Math Club.

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In Elgin, Illinois, Books at Sunset, a small, locally owned bookstore, sponsored a special "Kids Love a Mystery Night" for every student at Harriet Gifford Elementary School who read a mystery during Kids Love a Mystery Month.

At Mountain Home Junior High School in Mountain Home, Idaho, a local business supplies award certificates to students caught doing good things.

At Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida, the school's newest business sponsor, BJ's Wholesale Club, sponsors faculty meeting snacks and provides incentives such as pizza or ice cream for grade levels that do something "outstanding."

Those five programs illustrate a wide range of ways in which schools and businesses have combined forces to benefit students, teachers, and entire communities. Any school leader who is not taking advantage of potential business partnerships in and surrounding their community is missing a tremendous opportunity -- an opportunity most businesses are eager to pursue.


North Canton, Ohio, is home to the Hoover Vacuum Company. The community also is home to North Canton Hoover High School, named for the company's founder. The school is the beneficiary of gifts and donations from the company that total in the thousands of dollars each year. "Teachers at the school can apply for grants," principal Tony Pallija told Education World, "and, this year, Hoover Vacuum matched the district's contribution of more than $200,000 to create a state-of-the-art TV studio that just opened."

Not every school is fortunate to have such a large company headquartered in its backyard, but that does not mean that every school cannot have partnerships that have a great impact on students. In Huntsville, Alabama, for example, principal Teri Stokes works with a handful of business partners at Weatherly Heights Elementary School. "Last year, our PTA arranged for every staff member to get a bag full of goodies -- tape, markers, paper clips, and the like -- from the local Staples store," said Stokes.

"I usually call one of the other school supply stores we use to ask if they might donate some small items to give to teachers because we do so much business with the store," she added. "I don't abuse their generosity, so they are always willing. This year they helped sponsor a speaker for a two-day workshop, so I didn't ask for the small stuff."

In addition, Stokes works closely with Bruno's, a local food store chain. Bruno's donates about 60 bananas for the gifted class's Banana Races. (Picture a Pinewood Derby using bananas!) The local store manager even serves as one of the race judges.

The teachers at Weatherly Heights also are involved in some non-business partnerships. "Two local churches that have students at our school have 'adopted' us," explained Stokes. "One group provides goodies about once a month for the teacher lounges and they have a special fund to help pay for field trips for kids who can't afford them. A group of retired educators at another church also does special things for the teachers, especially in January, which can be such a blah month."


Principal Joe Corcoran told Education World of the unique partnership between his school, Harriet Gifford Elementary, and Books at Sunset, a nearby bookstore. A teacher arranged that partnership as part of her master's degree coursework. "The store owner, whose children attended our school years ago, was looking to reconnect with us," said Corcoran. "The store is within walking distance to our school, so several classes have taken walking field trips there. While at the store, students participate in interactive literature activities."

Corcoran explained how the bookstore and school have teamed up for many other events:

  • At last year's "Kids Love a Mystery Night" at the store, the bookstore's owner arranged to have the local high school's drama class act out short mini mysteries for the students. Students played an interactive role in the skits and had to solve the mystery based on the clues.
  • The bookstore displays students' Young Author stories. It is a real thrill for students to take their parents to the bookstore to see their books on display.
  • During Black History Month, the school paid for an appearance at the bookstore by author Glennette Tilley Turner (Running for Our Lives, Take a Walk in Their Shoes) and the bookstore arranged for the drama students to return to act out skits about famous African-Americans.
  • The bookstore rented out a movie theatre to host a discussion about the movie and book Holes. Families attended the private screening and discussion.

"Keeping a partnership requires a lot of communicating," admitted Corcoran, adding, "We have set up a partnership committee among our faculty to ensure this happens."

Teachers at Harriet Gifford are also involved in a unique partnership with a church. "Wesley United Methodist Church has adopted our school for a local mission, due to the high number (59 percent) of low-income families who attend our school," said Corcoran. "The church is in the same neighborhood as the school. Ladies of the church prepare and serve meals to our families during our monthly family nights.

"Due to church-state issues, they do not preach or recruit families to come to their church," said Corcoran, "but these ladies can make some great dinners and they get joy knowing they are assisting families in need.

"Last year at our back-to-school picnic we recognized our appreciation by presenting an award to the church's pastor," said Corcoran.

"These are two unique partnerships that add to the school experience of our students," added Corcoran. "It goes to show that you can do some great things with small partnerships and dedicated people."


No school is too small to take advantage of business partnerships, according to Nancy Jenkins, principal of the 450-student Guin Foss Elementary School in Santa Ana, California. Guin Foss has a handful of community partners. "Mimi's, a local restaurant, provides award certificates for students," Jenkins told Education World, "and, whenever we ask, it offers up to three dozen of its awesome muffins for parent or staff meetings -- at no cost to the school.

"We also have partnerships with Target, Office Depot, Albertsons, and Vons," said Jenkins. "When a customer mentions our school, a small percentage of the purchase is sent to us."

"Many small local businesses offer certificates for meals, ice cream donations, or small prizes when they are approached by me or one of our school's parent-helpers," added Jenkins.

Jill Massa is principal of Warden Elementary School in Warden, Washington. Creating partnerships with businesses can be difficult in small communities such as Warden, where there is only one grocery store, said Massa. However, she noted, schools in small communities should not hesitate to expand their search for business partners to businesses in surrounding communities that are supported by residents of their town. That is a lesson she learned when she was contacted by the Costco store in a nearby town. Costco invited her to send a volunteer to a backpack-stuffing event. "Volunteers stuffed backpacks with lots of goodies," explained Massa, "and schools that sent volunteers got to take away a few of the stuffed backpacks for their neediest students.

"As principals, we need to reach out to businesses -- including those businesses that are part of our larger communities -- to see what kinds of programs they might have available or what opportunities for partnering might be created," added Massa.


At Sunny Hollow Elementary School in New Hope, Minnesota, principal Kathy House has arranged with several businesses -- including a Valley Pastries, a local bakery, a TCBY ice cream shop, and McDonald's -- to provide coupons for teacher treats.

House hands out the coupons to teachers who have gone above-and-beyond. "Giving a coupon for a free cookie is a nice private way of saying thank you," said House, noting that these special arrangements are a win-win for the school and the local bakery. "The cookie coupon is a win for the bakery because it gets 'free' advertising and most people will buy something in addition to the cookie."

House also described a unique partnership that involved workers at a local company as tutors via e-mail. Students e-mailed writing samples and the workers provided feedback.


In many communities, principals have written letters, made phone calls, and knocked on doors to forge links to the local business community. But many principals have passed this role on to local organizations or the school parent-teacher association.

Principal Larry Anderson has a full plate as principal of Gunther School in North Bellmore, New York; his schedule has not allowed a lot of time for developing substantial business alliances. "However," Anderson told Education World, "I've encouraged my PTA to do so, and it has hooked up with local companies to underwrite some school activities."

One of the most successful of those was a promotion at a local Burger King restaurant. The school earned a percentage of the gross receipts on a special night. "The kids collected receipts from customers as they passed through the line and, at the end of the evening, the PTA got a sizeable check," explained Anderson, adding, "This activity was by far the greatest fund-raiser I have witnessed. The PTA is happy and the local Burger King proprietor is thrilled with the good will that is great for its reputation in the neighborhood."

At Cedar Heights Junior High School in Port Orchard, Washington, principal Patricia Green considers herself fortunate that the local Kiwanis Club has taken a leadership role in hooking up the school with a few dozen businesses. Many local business leaders are Kiwanis members, who have taken an active role in sponsoring and advising the school's community service club. Green works closely with Kiwanis leaders.

Green reports that many businesses open their doors to Cedar Heights' classes and to students who participate in the school's job shadow program. "In addition," she explained, "the local Wal-Mart store sponsors teacher projects and gives a special annual donation to a teacher or classroom. Fred Meyer, another local store, supports a mini grant program for teachers. Both stores are always receptive to requests for classroom supplies, lesson materials, and mentors." Other partnerships involve a local bank, a landscaping company, and the state's ecology management division.

Teachers at Cedar Heights have received special training in how to reach out to businesses, Green said. "Some businesses approach us, but most become willing partners when we approach them with a reasonable request to become involved.

"We make certain that all of our business partners and other businesses throughout our community regularly receive information about our school," added Green.

At Central Fairmount School in Cincinnati, Ohio, assistant principal Bonita Henderson shared a handful of ways in which businesses -- large businesses such as Cincinnati Bell, Proctor & Gamble, General Motors, and countless small businesses such as stores, banks, and law firms -- are actively involved. Partners sponsor transporting busloads of students to arts performances, presenting mock trials, providing copying and printing, setting up student banks within the schools, and many more things, said Henderson.

"Our business partners are very active and supportive of our schools," added Henderson.

Central Fairmount's special partner is Sara Lee. The staff at Central Fairmount can turn to Sara Lee for any special need they have. "They do whatever we request of them. That might be reading to students, being on a school committee, providing food for meetings or incentives for students" said Henderson.

At Central Fairmount, the words "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee" ring especially true.


In Reseda, California, principal Allan Weiner makes a conscious effort to get businesses involved at Cleveland High School. "We have partnerships with Boeing, Wolfgang Puck, Sony, and others," he reported.

"Most business people want to get involved because high school students are their future workforce," Weiner told Education World. To that end, Weiner and his staff have worked to develop a number of programs that aim to interest students in those companies' jobs, including one program with Boeing.

"Boeing has an aging workforce and is eager to create working relationships with schools," said Weiner. "We have a job shadow program that started five years ago. Each week, students are picked up by a van paid for by Boeing. They are taken to the plant where they shadow a team that is headed by a mentor. The mentor works hard to build a desire in these youngsters to stay in school and continue their education.

"Cleveland High is also home to a number of academies that we have created based upon what we perceive to be the needs of society in the next 20 years," explained Weiner. "I think the best way to get industries and businesses interested in your school is to have courses that support those industries. Advertise that fact and they will come seeking you."

Cleveland High's academies include a manufacturing academy focused on metal working skills sought by hundreds of local firms; representatives of those companies come to the school and work with the students. An art academy and a media academy focus on skills related to the entertainment industry, which employs one out of every six workers in the area.

"I have several hospitals interested in becoming involved in a health services academy we are starting," added Weiner. "I think every high school would do well to have programs that support the health industry since there is and will always be the need for many workers in this sector."


Principals and PTOs get very creative in the ways they approach businesses. "We solicit by word of mouth, through parents who work for businesses, and through the Chamber of Commerce," said Larry Davis, who is principal at Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida. "We approach new businesses as they come into our area, too. We use a form letter that states our commitment to each other. The letter includes a checklist that indicates what the business might be able to do for the school and what we might do for the business."

Schools can help and promote businesses in many ways, Davis said. "We can prepare displays of student artwork or writing, invite business personnel to special activities, promote their business through our newsletters or Web site, and shine the spotlight on partnerships at parent-family functions. We have used our communication board in front of the school to thank community businesses for special donations."

"Some businesses," Davis explained, "have a permanent display area set aside [in their company] where we advertise upcoming events, display student work, post our character traits for the month, post our "book of the month" or "student of the month" information"

Teri Stokes makes an extra effort to say thank you to Weatherly Heights' business partners. "I think it is important for businesses to know they will get something out of our partnership too -- such as recognition in the weekly newsletter, which in our case, is seen by parents of 550 students," said Stokes. "That newsletter is also sent to city council members, school board members, the mayor, and the superintendent, so the business gets known by a wider community than just our parents. When we have large events such as our Fall Festival, the names of businesses that have donated items are posted in the school lobby too.

"I have found that most businesses like for you to be specific with what you want," said Stokes. "When we have a specific need I usually post it in our newsletter because I have found parents to be our greatest resource. They will often go to their employers and ask for donations.

"We have an ongoing aluminum can recycling project, and many of the businesses where parents are employed save cans for us," added Stokes.

Dr. Les Potter, principal at Silver Sands Middle School Port Orange, Florida, has been known to approach potential business partners, but "I think it is very important for a principal to be able to offer something concrete in return to business partners," said Potter. "A partnership cannot be a one-way street with the school always asking. You might have a clear idea of what you can offer them, or you can ask the business partner what they might want in return. I have had partners ask for our choral groups to sing on special occasions and for our "Brain Brawl" club to compete with the partner's best brains in a fun competition"


"Business partnerships are waiting in the community -- the businesses just need to be asked to help in specific ways," said Patricia Green.

"The biggest factor in getting businesses involved is the asking," agreed Allan Weiner. "The worst that can happen is that they say no. Usually businesses are eager to help, and then the work begins."

"The best way to go about securing a business partner is to look at the needs of the school and to try to match those needs to what businesses can offer," said Les Potter. "You might need several partners to achieve your goals."

"I find that when I take a minute or two to introduce myself to the manager of a local business, and ask if there is any way they might join me in helping the children of the community, they usually can offer something," added Nancy Jenkins.

"Most businesses would love to get involved if we would just reach out to them," said Tony Pallija. "The problem is that most of us don't have an avenue for getting together."

"Sometimes principals just have to walk around the block and say hello," Pallija added. "They might be surprised to find how many people are out there to help."


Meet the Article Authors

The following principals -- all members of Education World's "Principal Files" Team -- contributed to this article:
  • Laurance E. Anderson, principal, Gunther School, North Bellmore, New York
  • Joe Corcoran, principal, Harriet Gifford Elementary School, Elgin, Illinois
  • Larry Davis, principal, Doctors Inlet Elementary School, Middleburg, Florida
  • Ernest Elliott, principal, Mountain Home Junior High School, Mountain Home, Idaho
  • Dr. Patricia Green, principal, Cedar Heights Junior High School, Port Orchard, Washington
  • Bonita Henderson, assistant principal, Central Fairmount School, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Kathryn House, principal, Sunny Hollow Elementary School, New Hope, Minnesota
  • Nancy Jenkins, principal, Guin Foss Elementary School, Santa Ana, California
  • Jill Massa, principal, Warden Elementary School, Warden, Washington
  • Tony Pallija, principal, North Canton Hoover High School, North Canton, Ohio.
  • Dr. Les Potter, principal, Silver Sands Middle School, Port Orange, Florida
  • Teri Stokes, principal, Weatherly Heights Elementary, Huntsville, Alabama
  • Allan J. Weiner, principal, Cleveland High School, Los Angeles, California