READ/SAN DIEGO AND ITS PARTNERS
Plans to create READ/San Diego began in 1988 and were quickly put into effect when the current program administrator, Chris McFadden, came on board. Building partnerships was one of the first items on his agenda. He knew that if READ/San Diego were to succeed in its mission of serving the "hardest to reach and hardest to teach," he would need to extend outreach dramatically throughout the community.
One of the first partnerships was with the Los Angeles Times, which donated funds for READ/San Diego's first computer lab, housed in a storefront. Now more comfortably settled in a suite of offices at the Malcolm X Library, a new building in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in urban San Diego, READ/San Diego serves more than 500 learners each week, primarily through its army of trained volunteer tutors. In addition to the founding director, READ/San Diego's staff now includes an assistant director, a budget analyst, and four tutor-learner coordinators (TLCs), as well as support staff, interns and AmeriCorps members.
The TLCs are experienced adult education teachers, two of whom have teaching credentials in adult education, who do most of the work of recruiting, matching, and supporting learners and tutors, while at the same time nurturing and supporting their various partner organizations. The TLCs have divided up the region into four geographical areas for which they are responsible. Because READ/San Diego services are so far-flung, they spend a great deal of time on the road, visiting sites where tutoring takes place, spreading the word about READ/San Diego to potential partners, meeting with local center managers, troubleshooting problems, selecting curriculum materials for learner-tutor pairs, and more. Their biggest challenge, say the TLCs, is "finding time to do it all!"
READ/San Diego expanded greatly after it formed a strategic alliance and combined the city and county library literacy programs. Like the city of San Diego, the county of San Diego had its own library system, with 34 branches, and a literacy program. In the late 1990s, the county began looking for ways to improve its services. READ/San Diego, which was well known and thriving at the time, stepped in to assume responsibility for the county program and began managing it in 1998 through a contractual agreement with the county. The alliance between these two library systems, a rather rare occurrence in the library world, became official in 2000, immediately turning READ/San Diego into one of the largest library-based literacy programs in the country.
The most tangible and impressive result of this partnership is the immense extension of READ/San Diego's reach into the community. Now in 20 of 34 county library branches, the program brings literacy services to 69 communities. This joining of the two library systems illustrates READ/San Diego's success in forming partnerships in pursuit of a common mission.
PARTNERSHIPS EXPAND SERVICES
READ/San Diego provides literacy services to city and county residents in three major ways. The first, and by far the most intensive, is through tutoring, in which READ/San Diego matches adult learners with tutors and supports these pairs with facilities, computers, training, and curriculum1. Second, READ/San Diego offers family literacy programs for families with pre-school children, who participate in group sessions held in the libraries. Children benefit through direct instruction and by watching their parents. Third, READ/San Diego offers workplace literacy training to employers.
Partnerships are important for all three types of services. Since 1988, READ/San Diego has formed more than 200 community partnerships with faith-based organizations, private companies, community-based organizations, and government agencies. Partnerships come and go, some lasting a few months, some lasting many years, depending on READ/San Diego's and the partners' changing needs and the partnerships' effectiveness in furthering READ/San Diego's goals.
READ/San Diego's staff continually assess the viability of each partnership, intervening when necessary to improve the relationship or dissolving the partnership when it is no longer contributing to READ/San Diego's mission or when a partner's "agenda" conflicts with that of READ/San Diego. As one TLC put it, "Partnerships work when they can offer volunteer tutors, space, facilities, or learners who are part of the target group—not just any learners." When selecting viable partners, READ/San Diego considers what resources are needed and the extent to which a potential partner can provide those resources. Resources include funds, bartered or free services, marketing support for greater visibility, personnel, more learners or tutors, expertise, or improved public relations and credibility with specific target groups.
READ/San Diego staff responsible for cultivating new partnerships are trained to use a seven-step formula (see Spotlight below) to clarify what each potential partner can and will offer READ. If the ingredients of this formula are there, a partnership is more likely to be successful. Partnerships are "marriages of convenience," according to Chris McFadden, and recognizing how the interests of both partners are served is the key to success.
READ/San Diego has had many partnerships that have not worked out or have simply run their course. For example, the partnership with the Los Angeles Times ended when the newspaper moved out of the area. A partnership with a faith-based organization ended when the program manager, the local minister, left to serve another congregation. The new minister did not have the same commitment to literacy as did the one who departed, so READ/San Diego ended the relationship with that church.
Other partnerships ended because unarticulated assumptions and expectations led to misunderstandings. For example, some organizations drop literacy as a top priority and then begin to decrease the resources devoted to the program.
The center manager in each partner organization is the human link in these partnerships. Everywhere READ/San Diego services are delivered, there is a designated center manager who is the primary contact for READ/San Diego staff. The center managers, who could be ministers, executive directors of nonprofit organizations, human resources managers, or head branch librarians, oversee the tutoring and classes at their site and work with their TLC to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Throughout the lifetime of the partnership, TLCs and center managers communicate regularly. Center managers submit monthly reports with program data and descriptions of any problems. The TLC travels to each partnership about once a week, bringing books and materials, providing training, and offering the center managers guidance and advice. According to one center manager, "When I throw up the S.O.S., they're always there for the rescue."
1Sometimes tutors teach small groups rather than individuals, but the process is very similar. (back to text)