Uncovering the “Partnership DNA” for the Future

Published jul. 31, 2017

It was only halfway through the morning after a presentation on student supports at critical transitions when it hit me: this was not like the typical conferences I go to at all. Instead of a hotel filled with breakout rooms of like-minded educators, we were discussing the importance of dual enrollment policies and work-based learning next door to (literally sharing a wall with) executives from the SAP sales team conducting an important customer meeting. Once the symbolic significance of that visual sunk in, I felt an enormous amount of energy and optimism that the career pathways we are developing at C-Town Tech, and that my colleagues are building in their home cities, are setting a new precedent for education and employer collaboration.


Photo (from left to right): Katherine Bergman of Career Ladders and Aaron Altman of C-Town Tech participate in a pathways mapping exercise at the SAP Summit this July.

Such intentional, yet nontraditional, collaboration between employers and educators is imperative for changing how we prepare young people to succeed in college and careers, and supporting the economic health of states and regions. The JFF Pathways to Prosperity team’s partnership with SAP exemplifies a new type of “partnership DNA” that allows for a more equitable, harmonious exchange between our respective worlds. The silos dividing sectors and broad expectations of each are being re-drawn. I would argue that a set of underlying conditions and outcomes characterize this new “partnership DNA:”

  1. Employers respect, value, and believe in educators’ expertise, and entrust educators to make the best decisions for their students and schools.
  2. Educators and employers make space for each other’s voices and physical presence in their respective environments.
  3. Educators and employers foster trust and empathy toward one another despite different constraints imposed on them by their industries, local contexts, and immediate supervisors.
  4. Educators are given a new platform to share critical lessons and best practices from the field to different audiences.
  5. Educators have the opportunity to exert pressure on education leaders and find new ways to promote and sustain innovation within schools and school systems.
  6. Employers are comfortable with challenges and change, and demonstrate support and commitment to overcome barriers as much as they celebrate successes and early wins.

Business as Usual, Sort of

Only a couple of short weeks after the Summit, I found myself at a C-Town Tech planning meeting in the dean of professional studies and workforce development’s office at Bunker Hill Community College. We seamlessly picked up where we left off before the Summit, discussing new curriculum, summer orientation, and professional development for the upcoming year. The C-Town Tech partnership has worked hard to get to a place where stakeholders feel a strong sense of ownership over the pathway, where coming together as a group feels routine, and C-Town Tech feels like it’s always been part of Charlestown High School. But as we continue this collective work, knowing that SAP was part of the original DNA that created C-Town Tech, I feel confident that we’ve set a new precedent for education and employer partnerships in Boston and beyond.