School-Community Partnership Program gives residents opportunity to change students' lives

For those who complain about the quality of education, kids who grow up unable to read or do math, teacher competency, the dropout rate and almost every other aspect of public schooling, here's your chance to do something about it.

A School-Community Partnership Program has been in place for 28 years, under the auspices of the Clark County School District, and that program needs many of you.

It is constantly looking for volunteers, which means the program is in search of companies, organizations and individuals willing to take an active role by putting their resources where their mouths are.

Bear in mind that the resources it seeks are not confined to funding. Resources can be many things, including knowledge and especially experience. These elements often are all that's necessary to keep a kid in school, to save him from becoming a dropout statistic in what is already an alarming rate.

And of most importance, the knowledge and experience you may possess might mean you can take a direct interest in determining the future of our kids instead of being an armchair critic.

"The district needs support from the community in the form of volunteers. We like to call it people power. That's the focus of our efforts," said Bridget Bilbray-Phillips, director of the School-Community Partnership Program.

The new school year in Clark County begins Aug. 29, but the appeal for volunteers to help students, from pre-kindergarten to grade 12, is an ongoing effort throughout the year, Bilbray-Phillips said.

One stop along the path of this constant search for volunteers was a recent visit by a team of county educators to the Residents' Forum of Sun City Summerlin. Many in the audience were retired teachers. There also were retired lawyers, writers, persons with medical and assorted scientific backgrounds and those who spent many years in a variety of other professional careers.

There also were retirees who have lots of time on their hands and a genuine desire to get involved in helping kids better understand the value of remaining in school and taking it seriously.

In short, the realities hit home when those who attended school a few generations ago were asked to absorb such facts as Nevada being 49th down the list in funding for education, coupled with the fact that only two-thirds of the students who entered Nevada high schools graduated in 2008 and 2009.

The general conclusion is that the system needs help. Moreover, help can come in many forms. Money, of course, is one source, but don't disregard experience and knowledge.

Those were the very qualities that gave rise to the School-Community Partnership Program, which was established as an experiment in 1983 with seven schools and seven volunteer businesses participating. The experiment became a rousing success. Since then the program has expanded into elementary, middle and high schools countywide, with more than 11,000 volunteers in the form of businesses, organizations and individuals.

"Programs offered to students are curriculum-based, with an emphasis on human resources," Bilbray-Phillips said.

That emphasis involves a great number of projects stemming from volunteer and student partnering, such as the Stay in School Mentoring program, which pairs adult volunteers with students and encourages the kids to not only remain in school but focus on career building.

Other projects with names that speak for themselves include Professionals and Youth Building a Commitment and a plethora of projects under the heading of Fine Arts Programs.

Bilbray-Phillips has been director of the program for five years, after serving as an elementary school principal for 13 years. The excitement in her voice easily bespeaks her enthusiasm.

"People in Southern Nevada have been enormously responsive to this program," she said. "They understand the need and how we're addressing that need. But we require the input of more volunteers ---- businesses and individuals ---- to help kids from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Call us at 799-6560.

"Furthermore, our superintendent values this program greatly."

Indeed he does. In a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal opinion piece written by Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight D. Jones, he stated: "Education is not a 'school' issue. It is a community issue..."

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He is the author of the novels "Falling Dominoes" and "One At A Time." Contact him at