Opportunities for Involvement
To education funders, conversations with local educational organizations on improving education and monitoring changes to Florida Standards may seem normal, but many districts don’t realize the untapped potential for innovative partnerships.
“We have not actively pursued outside funders other than competitive grant opportunities,” said Superintendent Kurt Browning. Outside funders eager to entertain funding for implementation and quality education efforts was a new concept to the Pasco County Superintendent of Schools. “Historically, public education systems don’t seek private money to do the work.”
HISTORICALLY, public education systems don’t seek private money to do the work."
- Kurt Browning, Pasco County Superintendent
Partnerships between philanthropy and the public education system is still a relatively new frontier, said Marlene Spalten, president & CEO of Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.
“It’s tricky. In Hillsborough County, our regional South Shore council has been funding specific projects from individual teachers” she said. “But we knew we needed to be at a higher level.”
Philanthropy needs to be supportive and aligned with district needs, Spalten said. And so the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay team met with the regional superintendent to determine areas where the community foundation could support larger education initiatives without replacing public dollars.
Identifying District Needs
One way funders are supporting Florida Standards implementation is through diagnostic reviews conducted by TNTP with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Pasco County is one of five districts in the Florida Pilot Implementation Network, a network of districts created under the leadership of TNTP. The network’s goal is that students and teachers are more often engaged in teaching and learning that is aligned with the expectations of the Florida Standards.
A 2015 diagnostic report found that not enough Pasco teachers were delivering standards-aligned curriculum. The diagnostic wasn’t easy for Pasco, but it was a game-changer for the county, said Vanessa Engel Hilton, Pasco County Assistant Superintendent for Student Achievement.
One lesson from the TNTP diagnostic into Pasco County resulted in the revamp of recruitment and retention in Pasco County, including moving hiring events earlier in the year, working directly with area colleges and universities and moving human resources into the schools.
“We’ve created a position called Human Capital Partners that are assigned to a group of schools, and they interface the needs of that school back into the personnel system, from recruitment to retention to onboarding,” Browning said.
Funders should work directly with districts to identify customized funding plans to address district-specific and community needs.
Florida Standards implementation is a statewide effort, Browning said, calling for a collective superintendent commitment. “Superintendents as a whole must be instructional leaders and instructional advocates. If we want to get results on FSA, we have to teach the standards and teach them to the rigor that they are intended to be taught.”
Through TNTP, Pasco County identified their vision of excellence and relentlessly pursued the indicators of rigorous instruction in the classroom, working toward both outstanding student achievements and improvement in staff efficacy.
The vision of excellence is critical, because it informs everything else from strategy to resource allocation to new approaches in the classroom. Without clear expectations on instruction, schools will find it difficult to choose the right materials for rigorous instruction and standards-aligned curriculum, Hilton said.
This type of intensive professional learning, continuous coaching and support at the school-based level, quality materials in the hands of our teachers...can move a system forward."
- Vanessa Engel Hilton, Pasco County Assistant Superintendent for Student Achievement
“These strategies – this type of intensive professional learning, continuous coaching and support at the school-based level, quality materials in the hands of our teachers – those are the things that can move a system forward,” Hilton said.
District leadership also has an obligation to think innovatively on how they use existing funds and what kind of new programs can support teacher training to ensure standards-alignment curriculum.
And that’s exactly where funders can support their local districts. “[Funders] cannot fund public education,” Spalten said. “One role funders can play is to take a risk on a pilot or new program that might be hard for a school district to get buy-in from stakeholders.”