This report presents the thoughts and observations, the collective wisdom, of Annenberg external partners about a wide range of topics. The report looks back on the work of the partners between 1995 and 2001, to what they said they learned about the challenges of working with schools, the keys to successful school improvement and the causes of failure, and the support they needed but did not always get to do their work well. This report also looks forward, presenting Annenberg partners’ views about the future of external partners as agents of local school change.

In 1995, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge launched a six-year initiative to improve Chicago Public Schools. The Challenge’s primary strategy was to group schools with common interests and needs into networks. Each network was paired with an external partner—an individual, group, or organization—to help strengthen school leadership and promote local school improvement.

This report draws on the experiences and insights of a sample of Chicago Annenberg external partners. The partners discuss what they learned about the challenges of working with schools, keys to successful school improvement, causes of failure, and the supports needed to work effectively with schools. These perspectives are useful for understanding how those working closely with schools see the task of school improvement and for understanding the role of partners in promoting improvement in the future.