Tornado devastation, rampant foreclosures, tragic street violence and initial disappointment at not earning a Promise Neighborhoods planning grant in 2010 did not deter the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) from moving ahead with plans to build a culture of achievement in North Minneapolis.
The setbacks also didn’t stop NAZ from applying for, and ultimately securing a $28 million Promise Neighborhood implementation grant. Making them one of just 20 organizations — from more than 200 applicants nationwide — to win a 2011 Promise Neighborhoods award.
Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Jim Shelton announced the award Monday at Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School, a NAZ partner school in North Minneapolis. Federal, state, and local leaders joined Shelton for the announcement, including Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.
“We felt like we were too far downstream to even know how to swim upstream,” said NAZ CEO Sondra Samuels of her community’s challenges and low morale a few years ago. Yet, with only 23 percent of North Minneapolis children ready to start kindergarten and just over half of North High School’s students graduating in four years, Samuels and other local leaders knew something had to be done.
After successfully securing private donations from individuals, local foundations and corporations, NAZ began partnering with schools and other organizations to create “a culture of achievement with the singular goal of having all our children graduate from high school ready for college and careers.”
NAZ’s efforts focus on engaging parents through “connectors” — trained neighborhood leaders who work one-on-one with families and connect them with resources, such as the Family Academy to provide early learning programs and support from experts. The organization also works with principals in traditional public, public charter, and parochial schools in the neighborhood to improve teaching and learning strategies.
The Promise Neighborhoods announcement followed news last week that Minnesota is one of nine states to receive a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Fund grant to develop new approaches to raising the bar across early learning centers and to close the school readiness gap. Today, the Department also notified the University of Minnesota that it would receive a $15 million grant as part of this year’s Investing in Innovation (i3) program for its Child-Parent Education Center program, which like NAZ partners with families, schools and community-based organizations in the early years to improve skills in language arts and math, and enhance family involvement in education.
Combined with these additional resources, NAZ expects Promise Neighborhoods funding to expand the organization’s current reach — from 150 North Minneapolis families to 1,200 families — over the next four years.
“This is an enormous boost for north Minneapolis,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. “But it is also a call to action to attack the root causes that give Minneapolis one of the largest achievement gaps in the country. We are going to keep fighting, and now with tremendous tools, until every child in every part of the city succeeds.”
During the Promise Neighborhoods announcement, Shelton reflected on the importance of the Northside community coming together to dramatically improve outcomes for its students. “There’s an old African proverb that says, ‘if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ This community will go far together and children’s lives will be changed because of the actions that you take.”