The Power of Partnerships

The Power of Partnerships

At Da Vinci Schools, we have been talking quite a bit lately about the need to get kids to and through college and into successful careers. If all we do is prepare kids for post-secondary entrance, it is analogous to taking your team from your 1-yard line to the opponent’s 20-yard line and not scoring. We must prepare our students with real skills for real jobs. To do this, we look to our corporate partners to help us define the knowledge and skill sets students need to know to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

One of our core principles at Da Vinci Schools is one we borrow from Ken Blanchard, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” This concept lies at the core of everything we do. Some problems such as closing the skills gap are simply too complex to solve with any one approach. Bridging this gap and others through innovative partnerships and effective teams is a particular focus of Da Vinci Schools.

Partnerships are not code for give us money, though money often follows. A simple exchange of money is not a productive strategy as it minimizes what an organization can offer and how they might benefit from the partnership. We have discovered that our partners are much more likely to invest in our schools with their time and money when they are invested in the process of teaching and learning and when they are on the ground with us.

At Da Vinci, our industry partners play a vital role in our quest for a real world connection. Together, we sit at the curriculum table to design real world projects that develop the knowledge and workplace skills students need most to succeed in the 21st century global economy. In a process we call “Ed-U-Creationship,” or education you create, students, teachers, industry experts and university partners have recently begun collaborating in project planning teams to develop rigorous real-world projects that address the needs of industry while ensuring that all academic curricula is linked to state and national standards. Students on the project planning team ensure that student engagement and understanding are represented. University partners will ensure students are on track for college admission and more advanced study.

Our partners also provide opportunities for on-the-job training, access to their social networks, mentoring, job shadows, in-kind support, volunteer support, strategic business advice, direct funding, and much more. We offer partners opportunities to exercise their corporate social responsibility, enhance their public relations, and build a potential pipeline of future talent.

This past week alone, our students engaged in the following activities with our corporate, business and education partners:

  • Engineers from Boeing mentored our 12th graders on their senior projects.
  • Designers and researchers from Karten Design and the X Prize Foundation worked with students to design and build medical tricorders.
  • DIRECTV hosted a culminating mentor program fieldtrip for DIRECTV mentors and Da Vinci mentees.
  • Gensler Architecture is designing a design laboratory at Da Vinci Design. Our students will be the clients. Students and teachers are creating an art installation for Gensler Los Angeles.
  • Engineers from Boeing, Raytheon and COMDEV met with our robotics team to begin planning for the upcoming FIRST Robotics Competition.
  • Students participating in our Real World Learning Program went to internships at Mattel, Northrop, Boeing, Belkin, Best Buy, Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, Hilton Hotels, Barnes & Noble, and many other places of business.
  • Professors from Art Center College of Design taught seminars in Sketching & Illustration, Comic Book Design and Design 360.
  • Engineers from Northrop, Aerospace Corporation, Boeing and Raytheon co-taught Project Lead The Way classes.
  • A professor from Foothill-De Anza Community College District and a Northrop engineer co-taught a Physics class with a Da Vinci teacher.

This is only a snapshot of the partnership activities regularly taking place on our campuses. We also have strong partnerships with Chevron, Deutsch, El Camino College, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles Air Force Base, and many others.

Next fall, we will partner with Antioch University Los Angeles to launch a new high school-university “hybrid” culminating in a bachelor’s degree. This partnership came about through a relationship with a Da Vinci benefactor who sits on AULA’s Board of Trustees. Through her, we were introduced to Dr. Tex Boggs, the president of AULA. Partnering with a small private liberal arts college dedicated to equal access, community engagement and real world learning is a great fit for us. Together, we are developing a personalized and high quality accelerated degree program in which students can earn a bachelor’s degree faster and at a far lower cost than they would pay in traditional programs. This is a huge boon to many of our low-income and under-resourced students who have been largely shut out of California higher education due to rising tuition, slashed course offerings, and capped enrollment.

Additionally, we have formed a triad partnership with the Wiseburn Elementary School District, our charter sponsor, and Vistamar School, a private high school in the South Bay of Los Angeles, to merge our community service and internship (Real World Learning) program expertise. Common donors are pooling their resources to purchase a van with all of our logos to transport Da Vinci, Vistamar and Wiseburn students to and from community service projects and internships.


What Makes a Successful Partnership?


There is no secret sauce. An organization just needs to set building partnerships as an intention and focus. The first order of business is to create a compelling reason for an external partner to join hands with your school. Understanding an organization’s interests, strengths and time availability is key. Doing an environmental scan to see what universities and businesses are close by and identifying the key people within the organization is the next order of priority. Finding an evangelist within the company or university is essential and can carry the good work of your school to volunteers and decision-makers.

I have found that companies are hungry for authentic collaboration at a time when there is a growing disconnect between the learning that takes place in high school and college and the knowledge and skills required to remain competitive in today’s global world of innovation. Larger corporations that invest in corporate social responsibility and educational outreach tend to develop programs in a vacuum without consultation of educators. They are well-intentioned but without insight about students or school needs and constraints (transportation, school calendar, chaperones, cost, etc.). Bringing a partnering opportunity and project to the organization is a proactive way to get your needs met so you don’t have to find a polite way of declining, and potentially alienating, a potential or existing partner.


Other key ingredients of successful partnerships are:

Shared goals and values. Our purpose is true partnership for student success. We choose partners that are aligned with what our schools are already doing. We are very clear on what we are asking for. We don’t accept free help in areas that we don’t need.

Flexibility and responsiveness. There is no one approach that works for all partnerships in all circumstances. Partnerships should be flexible and responsive to adapt to changing circumstances.

Good communication. The test of any relationship is how you handle the inevitable rough spots. Corporations often come up with “programs” in isolation because schools are not expressing their vision and needs. Schools do not always want to participate in programs thought up by corporations because they may not be very good, but it is hard to tell them so. Instead, we need to feel comfortable asking for what we need and why. True partnership involves transparent communication.

A commitment to relationships. Strong relationships are the glue that holds partnerships together – they can also bring partners together in new collaborations. When you work together toward a shared goal and love what you do, having the right partner can make all the difference. At Da Vinci, we like to acknowledge our partners and say thank you at every opportunity. Our partners are listed on our website and in e-newsletters. Additionally, we regularly give gifts of Da Vinci sweatshirts, flash drives, framed student artwork, and more to create brand recognition and stay top of mind.

Written by Matthew Wunder

Matthew Wunder

Executive Director of Da Vinci Schools, in Los Angeles, CA. In Fall 2013, Da Vinci will open a new charter high school-Bachelor’s degree pathway in partnership with Antioch University Los Angeles.

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