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Schools consider widening scope of partnerships

"By the end of this decade, officials at the Federal Way school district want all children to be able to read at their grade level. And Communities in Schools, an education-based non-profit group, wants to help them do just that and much more.That's why the district will host an informational meeting Thursday in hopes of pitching the CIS strategy to individuals, businesses, civic and education groups.This is not another program, said Kim McKoy, CIS state director. This is a strategy of mobilizing the community to ensure that teachers are free to teach instead of being a hall guard, police or parent.The CIS strategy works like this: Mobilize as many non-profit, civic, volunteer, business organizations and individuals as possible to donate time and resources to local schools and customize those resources to the needs of the schools.The idea has caught on in neighboring cities such as Tacoma, Auburn and Renton, McKoy said. In Tacoma, for example, youth fresh out of the juvenile justice system or mental health system are embraced by a network of volunteers who help them make a transition into society. Auburn's CIS partnership helps provide poor children with eyeglasses and shoes and in Renton, hundreds of volunteers spend time each week in schools mentoring students.McKoy hopes a CIS relationship with Federal Way Public Schools can help the district tailor its goals to help children in each of its schools.We're going to engage the community and develop a task force, she said. Maybe something centered around reading improvement. That's a major area they're wanting to concentrate on.While the Federal Way school district is pleased with the concepts and the prospects of CIS partnerships, spokeswoman Diane Turner said school officials are in the information gathering stage and have not fully signed on with it. It's not full steam ahead by any means, she said. We will get the information and then share it with staff and get feedback from them. But Turner said officials like what they've heard so far. It's gotten a nod from Superintendent Tom Murphy, who will also speak at Thursday's forum.If the district decides to accept the assistance and resources from CIS, then the network likely would start with a few or small group of schools and blanket the school district as the organization gets larger, McKoy said. What would sustain the progression is getting caring people involved from a cross section of the community, McKoy said.If the names of major business partners who've already signed on to the CIS strategy is any indication, business involvement might not be a problem.Credit card company Capital One, which has a major processing facility located here, donated $60,000 to CIS last June. Spokeswoman Debbie McGee said the company believes in the CIS strategy of building strong relationships in schools.This really brings communities together to help them get people around the table and maximize opportunities, McGee said. Businesses can help by giving their energy, knowledge of the community their time and volunteering.Costco Wholesale, the Gates Foundation and the Boeing Company have also contributed money and resources to the CIS cause. But while many corporations and local business have extended their hand to CIS and currently sponsor some youth and education programs for the district, Federal Way school officials will review what programs are working for students and what aren't.We'll find out what the gaps are so we don't overlay something we're already doing, Turner said. We'll focus on the places where we need extra assistance and have the input of parents and staff.For now, district officials say CIS could be a stepping stone for its schools and students.Part of our strategic focus is partnerships, Turner said. We're excited about the opportunity to benefit our kids. "

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