Public-Private Partnerships

Rio Rancho High School and Santa-Clara,-CA-based Intel Corporation probably rank as the most spectacular public school-private industry partnership in history. In 1997, Intel funded the construction of Rio Rancho’s new high school core, a $25-million undertaking.

Intel liked the idea that the school planned to follow a new educational philosophy laid out in a publication issued in 1996 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals called“Breaking Ranks: Changing an American Institution.”

In accordance with“Breaking Ranks” plan, the high school organized itself around academies — like a university organizes itself around colleges. Rio Rancho set up five academies or schools: Engineering and Design; SciMatics, a combination of science and mathematics; Fine Arts; Entrepreneurship; and Humanities, which combines the study of English with history.

The swift, early success of Rio Rancho led to the school’s selection in 1997 by Time magazine as one of the 10 most innovative schools in the nation for the development of career academies, block scheduling, integration of technology into every curriculum and innovative teaching strategies.

Among its innovative teaching strategies, Rio Rancho has expanded on the concept of public-private partnerships. Recently, School Planning and Management spoke with Daniel Barbour, one of Rio Rancho’s five academy heads. Barbour directs the school’s SciMatics Academy. We asked him about finding and building partnerships with the business community.

SPM: Have you continued to partner with Intel?

Barbour: Oh yes. For instance, about five years ago, the Intel foundation began supporting a program we developed to teach students to use the scientific method and to carry out research. Today, this program has become a model throughout the nation and internationally. In the program, students learn to make observations, to ask a question, and to test the question with experiments.

SPM: How did you get the Intel Foundation involved?

Barbour: We applied for a small grant. From there, we showed results and went back the next year and asked for more to expand the program. Through the years, we’ve showed results and gained funding to get the program up and running throughout the school district. Today, it is a big program. About 40 percent, or 5,000, of our K-12 student body is involved in research. We don’t follow the international protocol, which calls for exposing students to the scientific method in the sixth grade. We start in kindergarten.

SPM: What’s next for this program?

Barbour: Now we’re in the process of institutionalizing the program by moving from grant funding to funds supplied by the annual budgets of schools throughout the district. What is really interesting about Intel’s involvement in this program is that the company was willing to fund it as long as it showed results. Typically, they will fund programs for three years. Our program needed a longer-term commitment, and Intel supported that.

SPM: Do you partner with other businesses?

Barbour: Sure. My colleague Paul Stephenson, who heads the Engineering and Design Academy, works with county government and engineering firms. He just got an engineering firm to donate a laptop to an outstanding graduating senior this year.

SPM: You seem to be saying that businesses are happy to be involved with the schools. All you have to do is find them, talk to them, and describe a program in need of support.

Barbour: Well, you have to remember, businesses get tapped a lot by the community. It’s important to keep that in mind. But there are lots of opportunities. It’s a matter of taking the time to find contacts and keeping them open. One thing that is different about our school is that we have these five academy heads. We’re responsible for curriculum development, some teaching and also finding and developing public-private partnerships.

SPM: What are you working on now?

Barbour: I’m having a partnership meeting with Sandia National Labs on Thursday. I’ve been placing students with Sandia where they do intern research over the summer. They work 40 hours a week, and Sandia pays them for their time. I’ll have three kids there this summer.

SPM: Give me some more examples.

Barbour: Let me repeat that it is important to remember that businesses are being hit up all the time. Schools are often very good at saying: “me, me, me.” But you always have to think about what you can give back. In the case of Sandia, I send them only cream of the crop people. If a relationship like that works out, Sandia can follow this person all the way through to a Ph.D. scientist. It has to be more than just hitting people up.

SPM: How do you “give back?”

Barbour: I pay full price for programs for athletic events from a local printer. In return, the printer contributes the design. In other words, we only pay for printing. I also ask a local hardware store for help buying hand tools for a program we run called landscape and design. I didn’t ask for free equipment, but I did ask for a school discount. And the store provided one. We asked a local nursery for a break on the price of pine trees — we wanted to plant 20 in the front yard of our school. The nursery gave us a break, and we will recognize the nursery as a contributor to the school. When we purchased artificial turf for our football stadium, part of the deal was that they would do our baseball field for free.

SPM: Do you ever get involved with public partners?

Barbour: Yes, we do. A public utility called the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) has a program that provides grants for classroom innovation. One of our statistics teachers got a grant and bought 25 graphic calculators and a special overhead projector. He’ll use this equipment to run his statistics class next semester.

SPM: What about government partnerships?

Barbour: This year, we partnered with the state Department of Public Safety, the New Mexico State bomb squad, and Intel’s chemical emergency response team. We built a mock methamphetamine lab on campus and blew it up. The state bomb squad used it as a training activity. The Department of Public Service used it as a training opportunity to understand how to deal with fires and chemical emergency response. The Intel team used it as training as well. We have a forensic program and we build a mock forensic crime scene every semester. This year we used the mock meth lab.

Here’s another example: Every year, our anatomy and physiology class visits the Office of the Medical Investigator in Sandoval County. The students get some experience with cadavers. So our partnerships go on all across the curriculum, with business and government groups.

SPM: Where do all these ideas come from?

Barbour: The teachers make the suggestions. They are the experts, and we encourage them to use their creativity in developing programs that fit with our standards and our curriculum. Sometimes ideas come from the students.

We also partner with other educational institutions. For example, our local community college has partnered with Eclipse Aviation a new engineering company in the area. Eclipse wants to train a local work force, and the community college is helping. We’re looking at getting involved in this by developing our own course the will feed into that industry. We’re doing the same kind of thing in nano technology.

SPM: How long does the average partnership program last?

Barbour: Usually these programs depend on the passion of the teacher. Kids gravitate toward passionate teachers. Most of the programs are electives. So the students sign up for the courses or not. If too few students sign up, the course will be cancelled for the semester. If after a couple of years, the course doesn’t make it, we cancel the course and the program with it. But we’re always looking for dynamic teachers to come in and develop courses based on their passion.

SPM: What’s next at Rio Rancho?

Barbour: Our town has been called the fastest growing town in America. Right now we have 2550 students in our high school, in grades 10, 11 and 12. We have a graduating class of more than 700 students. So we’re building a new high school. It will cost $72 million. But Intel won’t fund this school. The community will pay for it through a bond issue.

SPM: Will the new school organize its offerings around academies and use public-private partnerships to enhance the curricula?

Barbour: We hope so. We’re working toward that.