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Alliance aims to boost Guilford schools

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By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — After three years of planning, the Guilford Education Alliance has launched a series of initiatives to support and promote local schools.

The group in January hired a new executive director, launched a website at guilfordeducationalliance.org, and moved into an office in the Family Service of the Piedmont wing of the Ragsdale Family YMCA in Jamestown.

This year, it also published a consumer guide to the county school budget that it distributed to business and PTA leaders, launched several initiatives that focus on parents, and convened several public events involving character education and civic education, says Margaret Arbuckle, executive director of the alliance and former associate director of the Center for Youth, Family and Community Partnerships at UNC-Greensboro.

And it plans this fall to pilot an after-school program focusing on reading and math, to develop plans to assess community perceptions of the Guilford County schools, and to develop a fundraising strategy that targets individuals and businesses and includes special events.

The group also has hired Louise Courts, director of development for the Richland County Library in Columbia, S.C., as director of development. She will begin her new job in September and work half-time.

In an effort spearheaded by the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and the High Point Community Foundation, the alliance was formed with the idea of getting more parents and businesses involved in the schools, and working more closely with the seven colleges and universities in Guilford County.

With an annual budget of $300,000, the alliance has received grants from the two community foundations and from the Weaver Foundation and Cemala Foundation, both in Greensboro, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, and Duke Energy Corp.

Unlike the Enrichment Fund, a fund managed by the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro that provides mini-grants to teachers and scholarships for field trips and school trips, Arbuckle says, the alliance does not make grants but instead aims to be a catalyst for change and the community’s commitment to education.

Last winter, for example, the alliance launched several initiatives to train parents, both to help them ask more informed questions when dealing with teachers and other school officials, and to help them better analyze data tracking school progress in the No Child Left Behind program.

The alliance also has begun an effort to train teams of administrators and teachers at Kiser Middle School in Greensboro, Ferndale Middle School in High Point and Jamestown Middle School to work more effectively with parents.

“What we’re about is changing the climate in the schools, and the relationship of school personnel and teachers with parents, so it is one of partnership,” Arbuckle says.

The alliance also has created an online education resource guide, and formed a partnership with DonorsChooseNC, a nonprofit online marketplace that lets teachers post information about their classroom needs, and lets donors make contributions to meet those needs.

Under the partnership, DonorsChooseNC now will feature a special page for Guilford County.

The alliance also aims to raise $50,000 this year and increase that total over the next three years.

Those funds are needed, Arbuckle says, to help the alliance meet its goals of serving as source of information about education, convening groups and parents around education issues, and creating “a sense of community engagement and civic engagement in the importance of education.”

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