Public schools’ business partners



Public schools are increasingly encountering competition from magnet and charter schools. In addition, starting next year, they will also see competition from other districts, as students will be allowed to attend any public school across Florida. School principals are increasingly feeling the pressure of competing for students in the same way business owners have to compete for customers. Principals are tackling issues that resemble the challenges of business executives while tasked with preparing our future workforce. At a time when resources keep shrinking and responsibilities keep growing, it is important to recognize that principals cannot achieve these goals alone.

There is a proven solution to this problem. Across Florida, CEOs and business executives are partnering with school principals to improve the quality of education in public schools. As a member of the Council for Educational Change, a nonprofit that partners business executives with school principals in Miami-Dade County and the region, I have seen the transformative power of these partnerships — which often last one to three years.

Through the Council for Educational Change’s CEO/Principal partnership model, business executives mentor school principals on things such as strategic planning, problem solving, team building, innovative thinking and a myriad of corporate leadership skills that focus on improving the quality of student education.

Case in point: A partnership between Miami Northwestern Senior High School Principal Wallace Aristide and Miami Parking Authority CEO Arthur Noriega has transformed the school and turned it into a ray of hope in the middle of a neighborhood afflicted by gun violence. Thanks to the collaboration between both partners, the school went from 14 years of being a D/F school to an A school. The partnership led Mr. Aristide to increase the school’s graduation rate from 55 percent to 82 percent, and the number of dual-enrollment classes to grow from four to 14. At the same time, students went from barely securing college scholarships a few years ago, to currently getting more than $9 million worth of mostly academic scholarships.

Broward schools have also benefited from CEO/Principal partnerships. Dillard High Principal Cassandra Robinson has successfully enhanced the school curriculum and helped students become college and career ready thanks to several business partners. The Council recently helped 130 Dillard teachers tour some of Broward’s largest employers. The teachers experienced first-hand the labor skills in high demand in today’s economy so they can prepare students accordingly. Despite being in a poor community, Dillard has become an A school with a graduation rate of 92.7 percent and home to an award-winning jazz band. Ms. Robinson’s vision and her partners made it possible for Dillard students to earn industry certifications in a variety of fields, including emerging technology and digital entrepreneurship — in response to today’s job market.

The key to a successful school is a leadership team capable of positively influencing the school working conditions. This factor is pivotal in reducing teacher turnover, which can damage the school’s competitiveness. A research paper recently published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis found that a teacher’s perception of the school environment depends on which principal is leading the school. We have frequently seen business executives help principals strengthen their leadership skills, and, as a result, transform their schools.

The Council for Educational Change encourages business executives to partner with principals to help them develop the competitive edge required to prepare our future workforce right here in our own communities.

Steven Wasserman is senior vice president for Jones Lang LaSalle and is a team leader in the South Florida Industrial group.