Key Points

With so many education policies and practices made at the local level, community-based foundations are in a unique position to support their local school districts in taking a comprehensive, systematic approach to improving the lives of young people. This article describes a research–practice partnership designed to produce school improvement in a rural community in western Virginia and reflects on a three-year collaboration among The Alleghany Foundation, two school districts, and the University of Virginia.

The partners identified challenges and strengths within the school districts and the community; gathered and analyzed existing district data and new findings from interviews and surveys of stakeholders; identified problems and promising programs to address them; and developed and communicated a plan for action. Now, the schools, working with the foundation and the community, are implementing that plan.

The collaboration provided clear evidence that sustained change will occur only if it aligns with the goals of school leaders and fully engages members of the community, and it sheds light on the unique challenges and strengths present in a small rural community that will influence foundation work. The process also produced five recommendations for foundations that seek a partnered approach to school change.

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