Education leaders are looking to Eisenhower Middle School’s success at building relationships with the business community as a model for other schools.
“It’s not a secret formula. It’s something every school can do,” said Paul Burke, Eisenhower’s dropout-prevention specialist, who has recruited more than 80 business partners for the Gibsonton school in just two years.
School administrators from across the county will hear that message next week when Burke addresses more than 150 of them at the School District of Hillsborough County’s Assistant Principal Retreat at Keiser University.
With school starting Aug. 19, the workshop is designed as a refresher course for all administrators for Hillsborough County grades 6-12. Schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia, school board members and other area leaders also plan to attend.
Burke’s presentation on how business partners and community leaders can support local schools is a subject he knows more than a little about.
Since starting at Eisenhower two years ago, Burke has recruited 80 local businesses as school partners. Those firms now sponsor events like most-improved student, giving away 12 iPads in the process, and field trips for students to local colleges.
Dr. Denis Peters, an assistant principal at Eisenhower who is also directing the workshop, said Burke’s passion for reaching out to the community was evident from day one.
“Paul [Burke] and I both come from a corporate background,” said Peters, “so we know how important it is to have that tie to the community. And Paul is one of those people that is great at speaking with business leaders, so we empowered him from the start to go out there and build those relationships.”
The Eisenhower example is one that other schools can easily adopt, Peters said.
“Sometimes principals and assistant principals feel like we have to do everything through public funding,” Peters said, “but there are companies out there that want to help, and education is a community effort. So the more input we have from the community, the better we will be able to serve the students overall.”
“When you whittle it away, it all comes down to relationships,” said Burke, who will tell his colleagues it’s imperative to put the time in to foster those relationships. “We are all in the same boat and have a vested interest in student success.”
One way Burke develops those relationships is by inviting local business and community leaders onto campus during parent-teacher fairs so “our community partners can meet and greet with our families.” Burke also holds a Friday Coffee and Donuts event where business partners provide the drinks and treats and meet teachers.
A regular at local Chamber of Commerce meetings, Burke also makes sure he stops in at the offices of those same business partners on the way back from a meeting to “shake some hands and give them updates on what’s going on at the school.”
Burke is even using the July 24th Assistant Principal Retreat as an opportunity to strengthen the school’s relationship with business and community leaders, inviting all of Eisenhower’s business partners to the retreat. At the time of writing, he has already filled seven tables, with the Firehouse Cultural Center, Hillsborough Community College and Huntington Learning Center among those showing up.
So what’s in the school partnership for business?
“They are investing in our children at Eisenhower,” Burke said. “They know their dollars and time are going to support student success.” Exposure, recognition and acknowledgment of their efforts also pay off for the businesses, Burke said.
For more information on helping out at Eisenhower, call Paul Burke at 813-671-5121, ext.224 or on his cellphone at 727-504-6798.