Local K-16 Partnerships: An Interview with Manna Selassie, Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus School Community Partnerships Coordinator

Posted on January 16, 2015

By Margaret McLaughlin

Manna Selassie is the Community Partnerships Coordinator for Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus School. She is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she studied Diplomacy and World Affairs. Originally from Trenton, she decided to return to the east coast to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA with PHENND. At Cassidy, she has helped the school build out its partnerships by increasing volunteer participation, winning a PhilaSoup grant to fix the playground, and planning multiple school-wide culture events. She has also been able to rekindle the school’s dormant relationship with neighboring St. Joseph’s University through Dr. Virginia Johnson, Director of the Faith Justice Institute. Thus far, Cassidy has received Teacher Professional Development and student volunteers for Math Enrichment Nights, Literacy Nights and other special events.

Q: How did the partnership between St. Joe’s and Cassidy Elementary begin?
A: Dr. Johnson and I were introduced by Eden Kainer at PHENND. We all had a meeting with Principal McClam back in October to discuss Cassidy’s needs and opportunities for St. Joseph’s students to learn and help fill these needs. We discussed student-teachers, field placement students, and conflict resolution workshops. We also discussed teachers’ professional development. Principal McClam acknowledged that while many students could use better decision-making skills, many teachers could also utilize training in relationship-building skills with their students. That’s when we decided to start with professional development sessions led by myself and Dr. Johnson.

Q: What is the nature of the partnership right now?

A: Currently, we are planning our next professional development session. We want to focus on cohesion as a community and dealing with the “challenging child.” Also, we have scheduled a Math Night on January 28th, in which Dr. Johnson helped plan with other stakeholders and she committed 10+ volunteers to coordinate activities.

Q: How do you expect [the partnership] will grow in the future?

A: I look forward to Dr. Johnson’s trainings being offered to more staff, and particularly providing extra support for younger teachers. And I look forward to building a refreshing and optimistic outlook within the school through this extra training and support. I also expect St. Joe’s students to become comfortable working with Cassidy on different events and initiatives to benefit students and families.

Q:  In what ways can you model this partnership with other organizations?

A: I think that we did a really good job of matching low energy and high impact [with this partnership]. Dr. Johnson knows teaching like the back of her hand, and I’m great at facilitating dialogue and have an established relationship with the Cassidy community, so putting together this presentation was easy and incredibly successful amongst the staff because we were able to match the school’s needs with our own skills.

I look forward to highlighting the skills and meeting needs of Cassidy students with other partners such as WePAC. We will be hosting a Literacy Night soon, and WePAC volunteers have a ton of ideas and can’t wait for a chance to engage the community in such an important part of child development: literacy. It should be awesome because they know most of the children at Cassidy – some volunteers have been at Cassidy for over 10 years – and they know what kind of material would get them excited. This will just be a chance to get the parents involved, which is key to the school’s success.

Q: What do you both feel are the necessary ingredients to a strong relationship between Cassidy and St. Joseph’s?

A: I think coordination and communication are key. Members of both the Cassidy and St. Joseph’s community have great intentions and shared values, however deciding on who does what when is difficult. Everybody has ideas on what works, but we have to accommodate circumstances at all times. Poor communication and coordination would make this relationship impossible, but Mrs. McClam and I are responsive to Dr. Johnson while Dr. Johnson attends all the stakeholder meetings as well as  one-on-one meetings as needed. That ensures a transparent and smooth initiative and we’re excited to see this partnership progress this semester

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