Relationships first, programs follow at Sonoma Academy

When we moved to our permanent campus in 2008, we knew we didn’t want to be the school on the hill; we wanted to be part of our neighborhood. We asked Jacqueline Smethurst and David Drinkwater of Wingspan Partnerships (public/private partnership builders) to help. They facilitated a series of conversations among SA leaders, the local school district superintendent, and principals of our local schools—setting a neutral stage and ensuring that all voices were heard.

We didn’t start out talking about programs. We shared our collective needs and hopes for our students and their families. Our local schools faced cuts in arts, sports, and staffing and were looking for summer camp options and nearby venues for events and adult classes. We wanted to advance part of our mission—communicate across cultures—and to give our students meaningful leadership roles.

The results?
• A free summer camp for neighborhood youngsters staffed entirely by SA student and staff volunteers.
• An accelerated fifth-grade math class taught in a local school by an SA teacher.
• Weekly music lessons: 50 fifth graders are taught ukulele by our faculty and students.
• Weekly sports and theater programs at another local elementary school.
• An annual community Dia del Nino celebration held on SA campus, coordinated by parents and staff from all schools.
• Free ESL classes on our campus taught by Santa Rosa Junior College faculty.

Over time, staying in communication has been key. We meet regularly to assess programs and start new ones, and I’ve joined the board of one neighboring (charter) school. The greatest value to our community is the trust we have built together.

Since we recently received a substantial grant from the Davis family to enhance these programs and offer several full scholarships for local Latino/Hispanic students, I’ve been asked for advice on partnership development by other school heads. My answer: Develop the relationships first and the programs will follow.

Does your school do something similar?

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