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‘Heart of Education’ Beats in Partnerships

When Douglass School principal Jack Robinson asked for some of the $10,000 the school needed to fund a leadership and character development program, Ashburn business owner David Middleton gave it all.

“It was too good to pass up. This was a well-rounded educational opportunity that seemed to be good for kids,” said Middleton, president of Knowledge Based Systems, which was founded in 1988 and opened in Ashburn in 2000.

Knowledge Based Systems was one of three Loudoun businesses to receive the 2003 School-Business Partnership Recognition Award at the recognition breakfast program on Friday. Middleton provided the funding for the Leesburg school when grant funds fell through for the Douglass Leadership Program, which aims to help students improve on academics through other activities. The program provides character education through classroom instruction, the school’s teacher advisor program and the national Character Counts program, along with out-of-school activities that includes a ropes course.

“Those sort of experiences are motivating and make you do better at academics,” Middleton said.

SCHOOL-BUSINESS partnerships like those between Knowledge Based Systems and Douglass School help students be successful, but “are they the only thing? No,” said Phillip Sturke, chairman of the Loudoun School-Business Partnership Council, a 19-member volunteer group mainly from businesses and industries that includes school staff and School Board members. The council formed in 1990 to facilitate matches between businesses and schools to create the partnerships.

“The children, this is what it’s about,” Sturke said. Businesses affect “good teaching” by providing staff with additional materials and resources, creating higher expectations and helping motivate teachers to become “better teachers,” he said.

The additional support puts the school-business partnerships at the core, not on “the fringes of education,” said Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick. The partnerships, which he said are "at the heart of education,” give students an inside view of the work world.

“These partnerships enhance our traditional educational programs [and] provide experiences that cannot happen in the classroom alone,” said School Board Chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles). “Most importantly, our school partners assist us in developing life-long learners.”

The two other school-business partners recognized at the breakfast were:

* Dr. John Jones partnered with Sterling Elementary School to provide dental screenings for students.

* Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority partnered with Stone Bridge High School to provide a student scholarship, sponsor the Ethics Day Program and allow access of the facilities and personnel at Washington Dulles International Airport for school activities.

“It’s definitely a two-way street,” said Keith Meurlin, vice-president of the authority and airport manager. “We get a heck of a lot out of it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s good to get out of the airport for awhile and see the real world.”

IN ADDITION to giving out the awards, the School-Business Partnership highlighted 76 partners in the 2003 Partnership Profiles, which is published annually. Loudoun’s schools have partnerships with hundreds of businesses in order to exchange ideas and services. The businesses provide scholarships, job-skill workshops and on-site work experiences, along with sponsoring school activities, offering field trips and tours, and providing coursework, mentoring and tutoring opportunities for students. They donate equipment and supplies and provide space for student displays, contests and college nights. In turn, students provide student programs at the work sites and employers can stimulate student interest in careers, increase their applicant pool and build community relations.

“Partnerships come in many shapes and sizes. I am certain we have one that fits you well,” Vogric said. “If you have yet to find that perfect school, we have five more opening this September. Take your pick.”

“This is a recognition breakfast … an interim breakfast. This event is not over,” Sturke said to the more than 275 people attending the breakfast, which was held at the Lansdowne Resort and Conference Center.

The School-Business Partnership Council and the Loudoun Education Foundation, Inc. sponsored the School-Business Partnership Recognition Breakfast Program.