Community partnership conference at St Andrew’s School for Girls 2019

| March 27, 2019 | 0 Comments

BY CATERINA CANNONE

St Andrew’s School for Girls, in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, Gauteng, in partnership with the Anglican Board of Education for Southern Africa, hosted a conference on 28 February 2019, entitled, “Transformation of Schools through Community Partnerships”.

Schools and organisations from around the country were invited, and many provided presentations and displays to showcase their ideas of good practice. The aim of the event was to share, and critically examine, transformation in schools through community partnerships; to discuss challenges faced; to honour the good work already being done in our schools; and to build partnerships so that we can grow and look forward to an exciting common life together in community.

A wealth of experience
Our keynote speaker was Mary Metcalfe, a former Gauteng Member of Executive Council (MEC) responsible for education from 1994 to 1999 and currently the director of Change and Management for Programme to Improve Learning Outcomes (PILO).1 Metcalfe, along with other knowledgeable professionals in the field,prompted robust discussion during the panel plenary. The panel comprised Metcalfe, Reverend Delani Mthembu (vice-chair of the Anglican Board of Education), Mbongeni Allan Magubane (deputy head of Transformation and Diversity at St John’s College in Houghton, Johannesburg), Deon Oerson (campus head for Community Wellness and Advancement at St Benedict’s College in Johannesburg), and Reverend Roger Cameron (CEO of the Anglican Board of Education).
Cameron opened the conference by explaining why, as faith- based schools, we must reach out to the wider community. He drew on the following three imperatives:
1. We have a gospel/faith imperative as faith-based schools,
as the scriptures call us to be in solidarity with the poor
and disadvantaged.
2. We have an educational imperative to expose our learners
to injustice and inequality in society; and through community engagement, to open their eyes to recognise the innate humanity of relationships across divides.
3. We have a political and social imperative to be generous in sharing the resources and skills that we have.

Mercy, humanity and justice
At our previous conference on the same subject, Margie Keeton, the current board chair of the Diocesan School for Girls in Grahamstown, had outlined the three stages of community engagement, which were reiterated by Cameron. It is our aim that we move through each stage to reach level three, where real change and transformation can take place:
1. Mercy: random acts of kindness: Creating awareness of a need and encouraging kindness, which is motivation
in itself; requires few resources and comprises of occasional activities which naturally fit into a school’s week or term.
2. Humanity: making a difference: look for sustained programmes with a plan: a set of activities, resources, timelines and measured outcomes; change is motivated through engagement.
3. Justice: transformation; re-engineering social challenge, and in the process changing your own institutional character.
At the 2019 conferences, delegates shared the following valuable information, outlined by Walt Whitmer, senior extension associate of economic and community development at the Pennsylvania State University, 2 who says that when establishing your community engagement goals, it is important not to assume that you know what is needed; but rather to consider five steps. Each of these goals provide you with an opportunity to assess what is most important to your engagement efforts, as well as the ability to develop the strategies and tools necessary to make these efforts successful.
1. Inform: The most basic goal of informing
should be to provide local citizens with clear and objective information about a specific situation in a manner that improves citizens’ understanding of the issue and potential solutions.
2. Consult: Provide some mechanism to gather input on the issue, problem, or process you are concerned about. Depending on the issue at hand, your objective with this goal may be to elicit citizens’ opinions, perspectives, ideas, underlying values, solutions, or priorities.
3. Involve: Involve stakeholders, to the appropriate degree, in decision making.
4. Collaborate: At its core, collaboration refers to the engagement of stakeholders to create an environment conducive for solving complex issues with plausible solutions for which they take responsibility.
5. Empower: Empowerment is frequently seen as the penultimate goal of an engagement effort.

Think deeply about power relations
After the 29019 conference, Reverend Cameron stated:
One overall impression from the conference was that schools are making a major positive impact on the lives of thousands of children and, when you put all the little acts of random kindness and the substantial interventions together, one can only be proud of what faith-based schools are doing. It is impressive. The conference also challenged us to think deeply about the power relations between the parties and how we need to be in community partnerships of equality.

References:
1. See:http://www.bridge.org.za/wp- content/uploads/2016/05/ME-NECT-Project- Presentation-20160517.pdf
2. See: https://extension.psu.edu/walt-whitmer

Category: Autumn 2019

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