While many entities agree in theory that they should work together, institutions like schools are often constrained by regulations as well as an ingrained approach to how to help this target population. In Vancouver, the superintendent and the board adopted policies to address the challenges faced by low-income students.
Often, hearing it from your own peers is the necessary jumpstart. Both housers and educators interviewed said it was helpful to know one's counterpart in another community, with similar structures and funding, was able to work on intersecting housing and education. Janet Gates-Cortez, a former principal at McCarver Elementary School in the Tacoma School District, gives tours to other educators and introduces colleagues to the partners McCarver has cultivated to help her professional peers envision how they can create their own partnerships in their communities. Mirra does the same when working with other housers to help them start efforts to improve education outcomes for low-income children. He advises that schools are most attentive when they hear from another school and encourages “intra-tribal communications” as the place to start.
For education entities that are hesitant to work with a housing authority, the case must be made for their value to the educational process. “People thought of us as a program, and I think had us kind of off to the side but weren’t thinking about the sheer number of children that we had contact with. We had [the kids’] attention, and the ability to engage and leverage that involvement,” Langford said, describing how she worked to get Home Forward a seat at the proverbial table. Housers may have to work hard to illustrate how they could assist educators. “I think it starts with a listening conversation where you ask the schools what they are struggling with, particularly what is outside of the school’s four walls, and figure out where the housing authority can be value added to that,” King County Housing Authority (KCHA) Executive Director Stephen Norman said. “The fact is that children spend only a small fraction of their week in school, the rest is spent out of the school either in the home or on the streets, and a lot of the future success of children is determined by factors outside of the school classroom, and that’s where housing authorities can help.” Housing authorities can help schools, he said, by communicating and coordinating with parents on behalf of educators. “Parental attitudes, parental behavior patterns, engagement between parents and schools is absolutely critical, and I think that’s where you can see real value added by the housing authorities.”
Of course, some reticence can remain. But there’s a compelling case these partnerships can make, one prong of which is that they not only strengthen educational efforts, but also guard against future bumps in the road. Housing authorities also have an intimate understanding of families’ cultural backgrounds, nuances that might escape schools. “We have scholars at all different ages and we are preparing Seattle’s youth,” Courtney Cameron, formerly of the Seattle Housing Authority, said, “We take that really seriously. And those youth come with multiple languages, with different understandings of community, with different needs, and we need to meet them where they are and listen, and then we need to act. And the future of the city depends on us doing our jobs well and listening to the students we serve.”
Still, whether a partnership begins with a small goal or a big mission, it’s important to be clear about what your organization brings to the table in order to assuage any reticence from your partners. “I think when you’re running a school your focus is education. So, when you have partners coming in saying that they want to support you with the educational goals, I think the natural reaction for school staff is, ‘Well, don’t you just do housing? What would you have to do with this?’” said Kisa Hendrickson, the chief engagement and partnership officer of Highline Public Schools. “So, it’s really a matter of outlining and being very clear: ‘Here’s our role, here’s your role, and here’s what they’re bringing to the table.’” In the case of KHCA, its education partners valued the partnership from the start, she said. “What I appreciate about King County Housing Authority is, I never got the sense that they were trying to step outside of their natural role or lane. It was really more about making the connections.” KHCA was also able to connect with families and students in a way school staff could not, Hendrickson acknowledged. “There’s an opportunity for the schools to go deeper with the families because of the staff that King County Housing Authority has.”