From Partner to Partnership Specialist

Several new professionals have joined Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago, bringing their backgrounds in arts therapy, research and communications to the non-profit organization. Robin Koelsch, the former program director for Rock for Kids, is among the honeymooners who are enjoying their first year. As the arts partnership specialist for CIS of Chicago, Koelsch’s primary responsibilities include managing arts partnerships, provide training and support, and connect schools with arts programming.

“She has brought – beyond an incredible amount of energy and creativity — willingness to collaborate and think innovatively.  I think she is also able to say, ‘Here is what is was like when I was a partner working with schools,’” says her supervisor Katrina Pavlik, senior community partnership specialist .

Rock for Kids (now called Foundations of Music) is a music organization focused on providing music education to kids who would typically go without, because it is not offered in schools. Foundations of Music partners with CIS of Chicago to provide blues and jazz workshops for Chicago Public Schools students. The organization worked with more than 25 CPS schools under Robin’s management as program director. Koelsch was responsible for partnership and program development, program evaluation, and teaching artist training, something she is excited to bring to CIS in the upcoming school year.

As a partner, Koelsch loved the professional development and support from CIS of Chicago through the NAVIGATE training series. Now that she’s on the team that plans the series, her experience fills a gap that Pavlik believes only a former arts partner can fill. Back in summer of 2015 Koelsch began to think deeply about her career and where she wanted to go when the former Senior Community Partnership Specialist reached out to her about a position opening up.

Koelsch cites the familiarity of staff and with CIS’s work as reasons for her comfortable transition from partner to staff member. She was happy to find in her new position that CIS was a comfortable place to ask questions. This was helpful as she shifted her focus from the mindset of the minutia organizational curricula and lesson planning to the larger picture. Koelsch believes that her new position keeps her involved in all the aspects she loved about working in music education and arts programming while shedding the more frustrating aspects of connecting with schools.

“I feel like it provides me with the opportunity to support my partners because I get it. I’ve been there,” said Koelsch.

Looking forward, Koelsch has ambitions to facilitate to peer-to-peer observation among partners that sparks collaboration on a bigger level. She believes in the power of collective, where partners can share with each other what works for them and make it their own, together they can impact students more effectively. With hopes that with the right framing and proper support on her end, this partnership specialist is aiming to foster opportunities for successful collaboration.  Already aware of the challenges of her “secret goal” and Koelsch poses this question:

“If our ultimate goal is to impact and improve the lives of youth [in school] in Chicago, if we’re offering each other a way to do that better, why wouldn’t we?”


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