This is a guest blog written in partnership with Turnaround Arts: California (TA:CA).

McKinley Elementary school building

Recognized as a 2019 and 2020 Top School by Innovate Public Schools, McKinley Elementary in Compton, CA provides a shining example of what is possible – for principals, teachers, students, and families – when schools strategically leverage partnerships to build a community of support around them.

“Partnerships provide an opportunity for our schools to imagine new possibilities.”
Turnaround Arts: CA

Turnaround Arts: California has been honored to be a close partner with McKinley since 2018. During that short time we have seen profound transformations: improved student engagement and academic achievement, increased social emotional learning, shared leadership among school staff, empowered and innovative teachers and principals, and families involved in their child’s education.

McKinley chose to focus their partnership on the arts as a pathway to positive school transformation. In addition to providing professional development, coaching, and financial support to our partner schools, Turnaround Arts: California also supports our schools in developing strategic arts plans and identifying arts organizations to help them meet their goals. Over the years, McKinley has worked with The Actor’s Gang, Get Lit: Words Ignite, UCLArts & Healing, Education Through Music LA, and P.S. ARTS. Each organization has brought their expertise into the school, providing culturally responsive arts-based professional development to teachers, arts integrated lesson planning, artistic residencies, Family Art Nights, and school musicals.

McKinley Elementary students in PE class

Schools are an integral part of our communities, and we saw that more than ever during the pandemic.

So it stands to reason that to best meet the needs of their communities, partnerships with community-based organizations would be an important component to their success. No one can do it all or know it all. Partnerships provide an opportunity for our schools to imagine new possibilities. They provide additional expertise that expose teachers and students to new ways of teaching and learning and invite families and the broader community to invest in shared outcomes for our students. But finding the right partner and figuring out how to structure and execute the partnership is oftentimes challenging.

Here are some tips to help set schools up for success:

Research and Outreach

  • Assess needs: Solicit feedback from your staff, families and students on what type of impact you’d like the partnership to have, such as:
    • Increased student engagement in core curriculum
    • Student confidence and expression
    • Community building and bullying prevention
    • Career development
    • Technological skills
    • Enhanced school/family relationships
  • Find and Vet Partners: Ask around for recommendations for partners in your community – families, city council members, city arts and culture departments, state and local arts agencies, offices of education, and other schools. When vetting a partner you may inquire about:
    • Experience and trust built working with the community
    • Cultural responsiveness/asset-based mindset
    • Capacity
    • Alignment of vision
    • Understanding of state learning standards
    • Ask to see their work in action at another school

McKinley Elementary students viewing decorations

Collaboration and Implementation

  • Set yourself up for success: Establish a concrete vision for success with target outcomes that align with key goals the school has already established. Always draft and sign a partnership agreement that includes these target outcomes and include a timeline for accountability. Build the partnership into existing school structures, like staff meetings, professional development time, after school programs, etc.
  • Introduce the partner to your school staff: Often a short introductory workshop for your team will allow the new partner to share their expertise and invite school community members to better envision how they might collaborate.
  • Create structures for collaboration: Establish who will be the point person at the school and the partner organization, how they would like to be in communication and how frequently. Consider establishing a schedule of regular check-in’s to ensure that you have time to address concerns as they arise.

Sharing and Assessing the Partnerships

  • Share the results: Consider holding a culminating exhibit, performance or other event, or creating a video to document, celebrate, and showcase the project for the broader school community.
  • Measure impact: Student, teacher, and parent surveys/reflections can provide an effective equity-based approach to data collection that honors the voice and experiences of the target audience. Teacher and administrative feedback is just as critical to maintain buy-in for the partnerships and assures that their voices are a key part of decision making. Review and assess student outcome data (e.g., attendance, reading and math scores, etc.) and take a look at what can be improved.
  • Reflection meetings: With your partner, hold reflection meetings that take into account student outcome data and the data gathered from teachers, students, and families. This is essential for sustainability of partnerships and refining for future years of collaboration.

Partnerships take effort to ensure they are responsive to your stakeholders and meet your intended goals. But the effort is more than worth it when you provide an opportunity for new experiences, risk-taking, and innovation. Your teachers, students, and families will take notice and become more invested in your school community and its ultimate success.

Here’s a look at how McKinley Elementary and Turnaround Arts: CA came together to form a partnership on the arts:


Innovate Public Schools is a nonprofit community organization that builds the capacity of parents and educators working together to create excellent and equitable public schools.

Turnaround Arts: California (TA:CA) partners with schools in historically marginalized communities across the state, building the capacity of teachers and principals to leverage the arts to support whole-school transformation and create equity and access for all students. Founded by renowned architect Frank Gehry and arts education advocate Malissa Shriver in 2014, today they partner with 26 schools in rural, urban, and suburban communities across the state, reaching over 15,000 students and over 750 principals and teachers annually.