Promise Zones Launched in Five Communities

Obama announcing Promise

President Obama announced the first five “Promise Zones,” at the White House yesterday. (Photo by Philadelphia Mayor @Michael_Nutter)

On Thursday, Jan. 9, President Obama announced the first five “Promise Zones,” where local communities and businesses will work together to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety. Announced in last year’s State of the Union Address, the Promise Zones Initiative is part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class.

The first five Zones — in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma — have put forward plans for how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity. Click here for a fact sheet on the Promise Zones Initiative and the key strategies of each of the five Zones.

“In a country as great as this one, a child’s zip code should never be what determines his or her opportunity,” said Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz in a White House blog about the new initiative. “The government can’t fix this on its own, but it can be a much better partner in helping local leaders develop policies that improve education, protect the most vulnerable, and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit.”

In three of the Zones, the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Promise Neighborhoods will play an important role as one of the added community tools resulting from the Administration’s place-based investments. In Los Angeles, for example, the Promise Neighborhoods initiative will be instrumental in expanding a full-service community schools model from seven schools to all 45 Promise Zone schools by 2019. The other Promise Neighborhoods playing integral roles in the new Zones are in San Antonio and Southeastern Kentucky.

This post originally appeared on OII’s homepage.

Duncan Addresses School Safety During Promise Neighborhoods Announcement

Duncan Giving Speech

Secretary Arne Duncan spoke on the importance of school safety at a Promise Neighborhoods grant announcement. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

In his first public comments since last week’s Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke on the importance of school safety at the Neval Thomas Elementary School in Washington, D.C., at an event where he also announced the 17 winners of the 2012 Promise Neighborhoods $60 million grant fund.

“No one should ever have to go through what [Newtown] is going through,” Duncan said during a speech that was preceded by a moment of silence. “They are strong. They are resilient. They are united. But they will be forever changed,” he said.

On Wednesday, Duncan traveled to Newtown, Conn., to talk privately with teachers and school staff from Sandy Hook Elementary School and to attend the wake for principal Dawn Hochsprung.

“We have to make sure we learn from this awful tragedy as communities and as a nation,” Duncan said during today’s speech. “Every community needs to appraise its values and look at whether the community, parents, business leaders, faith-based leaders, political leaders, and schools are doing all that they can to keep our nation’s children safe from harm.”

Neval Thomas Students

Students at Neval Thomas Elementary School in DC perform during today's event. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Secretary Duncan said that in the coming weeks he is planning to visit schools and communities—in cities, suburbs, and rural areas—to talk about gun control and school safety. On Wednesday, President Obama named Duncan to a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden to identify concrete proposals by January for reducing the epidemic of gun violence.

Promise Neighborhoods

Promise Neighborhoods are cradle-to-career initiatives that call on all parts of the community to provide comprehensive wraparound supports to surround good schools, such as high-quality early learning, rich after-school activities, mental health services, and crime prevention.

More than 200 applicants applied for this round of Promise Neighborhood grants. “The hunger for this kind of work in the nation is huge,” Duncan said.

“So many communities are eager today to provide equal access and support to disadvantaged children. So many communities are desperate to replace the cradle-to-prison pipeline with a cradle-to-career pipeline.”

Promise Neighborhood grants are important, Duncan said, because they engage the entire community—asking everyone to work together and to take responsibility for helping children.

Click here to read more about the announcement and for a list of today’s 17 winners, and read a transcript of Secretary Duncan’s speech.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Impact in Place: ED Releases Report on “Place-Based” Strategy

Place matters. And the Obama Administration has made it a priority to study just how much, such as how a community comes together to support residents, and how government, business and nonprofits can increase coordination to improve impact and effectiveness of investment.

From this work, the Department of Education has adopted a “place-based” approach – recognizing that the federal government can support strategies to achieve better outcomes for students and families by taking into account where investments are made and how those investments interact with other resources, policies, and programs. On Friday, the Department released a report on these efforts titled “Impact in Place: A Progress Report on the Department of Education’s Place-Based Strategy.”

Secretary Duncan announces Promise Neighborhoods

Secretary Duncan announced in September 2010, that 21 nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education would receive Promise Neighborhoods planning grants.

The report explains how the Department is able to better align its work with other levels of government to address common challenges. For the first time, the Department is explicitly using “place” as the unit of analysis, not just the set of programs that the agency funds.

Communities that struggle with underperforming schools, rundown housing, neighborhood violence, and poor health know that these are interconnected challenges and that they perpetuate each other. The place-based framework helps the federal government better support a community’s response to such challenges by coming up with solutions that tackle multiple problems.

Earlier this year, Secretary Duncan explained that, “boosting student achievement is not an either-or solution,” and that the broader community should be “attacking both in-school and out-of-school causes of low achievement.” The focus on place gives ED a mechanism to see how its investments focused on “in-school” levers of change interact with “out of school” conditions for learning, as well as the interventions meant to address them. With research showing that out-of-school factors influence students’ experiences in the classroom, the place-based framework helps the Department move to “both-and” solutions.

The Department’s signature place-based effort is the Promise Neighborhood program, an initiative that recognizes the role an entire community plays in a child’s education. Promise Neighborhoods create common metrics of success and a “cradle-to-career” continuum of services by partnering with community-based organizations, taking advantage of multiple investments directed toward achieving the same goal. A similar approach is taken in ED’s recently proposed criteria for the Race to the Top (RTT) District-Level competition. The proposal offers preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to sustain their work and offer services that help meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs, and enhance their ability to succeed.

Today’s report shows that ED’s place-based approach not only better targets the specific needs of individuals and populations, but also improves the impact and efficiency of investments.

The report lays out six key elements for the development and success of a place-based strategy, and provides example of implementation. By explaining what it means to be “place-based” and showing how communities around the country have adopted this model, we hope to encourage other communities and agencies to work in a place-based way as well. The report is a first step in showing how to turn the place-based theory into action that produces results for children, families, and communities.

Learn more about Promise Neighborhoods, see a list of last year’s winners and read Secretary Duncan’s speech announcing the program.

Larkin Tackett is Director of Place-Based Initiatives at the Department of Education

North Minneapolis Promise Neighborhood Comes Together to Boost Education Opportunity

Promise Neighborhoods Announcement

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton goes fishing with pre-kindergartners at Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School, a partner for the Promise Neighborhoods grant awarded to the Northside Achievement Zone at the school, earlier the same day. Photo by Bre McGee.

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.

Al Franken

U.S. Sen. Al Franken shares some playtime with pre-kindergartners at Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School, a partner for the Promise Neighborhoods grant awarded to the Northside Achievement Zone at the school, earlier the same day. Photo by Bre McGee.

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.”

Related Post: Promise Neighborhoods Grantees Emphasize Early Learning as Key to Success

Springfield, Ohio: ‘We Don’t Let Barriers Get in the Way’

Lincoln Elementary kindergartners enjoy story time with teacher David Wells. Photo courtesy of Springfield City Schools

While Springfield, Ohio schools cope with a growing number of poor families, an achievement gap and a declining population — similar to many other districts nationwide — the community is tackling those challenges head-on.

“We don’t let barriers get in the way of progress,” said Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach Massie Ritsch and I visited Springfield several weeks ago to learn firsthand how Springfield City Schools are working in innovative ways with the community to meet its challenges and to see how federal funding is supporting its progress.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Massie Ritsch reads the promise board at Lincoln Elementary.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach Massie Ritsch reads 5th grade math students’ promises to strive towards high goals at Lincoln Elementary, following the school’s motto to “Be the Promise.” Photo courtesy of Springfield City Schools

Like many cities throughout the Midwest, Springfield has lost manufacturing jobs over the past few decades.  Although NCLB data show a significant achievement gap between Springfield’s children from low-income families—76 percent of its students—educators, parents, elected officials, and students, as well as members of the business and higher education communities, have devoted time and resources to identify problems and build solutions. It’s that arduous effort that seems to have generated real improvement in students’ year-to-year achievement growth, despite the district’s designation under NCLB as not meeting adequate yearly progress.

ED funding plays an important role in several ways:

Keifer Academy is an alternative school for K-12th– graders that was once among the lowest-achieving in the state. The school — which serves Springfield students who are not progressing in traditional environments — has undergone a transformation with help from a $1.65 million federal School Improvement Grant. The grant has enabled Keifer to bring in a new principal, add new staff for more customized support, develop new programs through community partnerships, and increase teacher training.  Early results are promising: the percentage of Keifer 10th graders who are proficient in reading jumped from 23 percent in 2010 to more than 41 percent in 2011.

Awarded a special $718,000 Innovation grant from Ohio’s Race to the Top (RTTT) grant, Springfield is developing a Family Academy that will provide learning opportunities for students and parents, as well as meals, childcare and transportation on weekday evenings. For children, activities will include enrichment projects, tutoring and college readiness courses. Adults will have learning options like GED programs and Clark State Community College classes, as well as social activities such as line-dancing.

Through the district-wide Race to the Top Transformation Team — funded with $160,000 of Springfield’s RTTT allocation from Ohio – a committee of district teachers and administrators work together to analyze student performance issues and make changes to improve.  We had the opportunity to join the team’s discussion of the best practices of the district’s most successful teachers.  Subcommittees reported on the schools they’d visited and identified common threads like “teacher collaboration” to develop improvement strategies throughout the district.

Even though the district applied for, but did not receive, a Promise Neighborhood grant from ED, the district has gone ahead on its own to develop the Lincoln Promise Neighborhood initiative. The effort aims to improve Lincoln Elementary, which serves the district’s poorest students and has posted low achievement scores, while simultaneously addressing the needs of its neighborhood. Through this endeavor — supported by private foundations and some RTTT funds — the school has established new mentoring and tutoring partnerships, after school programs and a summer camp.

Most striking, though, is the philosophy to “Be the Promise” that’s reflected in Lincoln’s staff and students.  Fifth-grade teacher Steven Holliday embodies this emerging culture.

Recently hired from a district where 98 percent of his students were proficient in math, Holliday tackled his new charges’ proficiency levels – just 22 percent last year – with determination.  He inspired his students to ask themselves: “Who are you? 22 percent or 90 percent?” The walls of his classroom are lined with student-written promises to achieve the higher goal, and “77 percent posted proficient scores on a recent assessment,” he told us.

Over the past two years, the seeds for many of the district’s innovative programs – such as the Family Academy – were planted through the collaborative community engagement initiative. The consensus-building process can be painstakingly slow, but Estrop believes community-developed plans will have more long-term value than any quick “magical solution.”

“It’s hard work,” he said, “but we’re building community through the investment in our kids.”

Julie Ewart, Office of Communications and Outreach, Great Lakes Region

Housing, Education Departments Put Schools at Center of Choice Neighborhoods

In Chicago yesterday, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced that five cities would receive the first-ever Choice Neighborhoods implementation grants. Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle will be the focus of the new strategy to support local leaders in transforming high-poverty, distressed neighborhoods into neighborhoods of opportunity.

Only hours before the Chicago announcement, the Chicago Tribune reported that four teenagers were wounded in a drive-by shooting in the same community that will be subject to the Choice transformation. Persistent gang violence, vacant homes and lots, high unemployment, and lack of access to needed services and amenities are common challenges in neighborhoods like Woodlawn. In addition, most of Woodlawn’s neighboring schools are underperforming with math and reading scores trailing city averages.

To meet this challenge, Choice Neighborhoods includes an unprecedented focus on ensuring access to quality educational opportunities. HUD worked closely with the U.S. Department of Education to develop the program, requiring Choice applicants to have an education strategy that “expands access to high-quality early learning programs, schools, and education programs that will improve key outcomes for children and youth in the neighborhoods.”

The Chicago Choice proposal responded with plans to work closely with the University of Chicago, which is making a number of major investments in the neighborhood including opening the doors of its high performing Laboratory High School to neighborhood residents. The plan also invests in the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community (WCPC), an education collaborative focused on turning around poor performing schools and enriching children’s academic experience.

Secretary Duncan praised the Choice Neighborhoods approach, noting that it is part of an interagency effort to “combat poverty by ensuring there are great schools and systems of support at the center of every community.”

Choice Neighborhoods is linked closely to the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods program, which supports cradle-to-career services designed to improve educational outcomes for students in distressed neighborhoods (More background about the intersection of Promise and Choice Neighborhoods below).

Both programs are central components of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which seeks to align federal housing, education, justice, financial asset building and health programs with the overarching goal of transforming neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into communities with the affordable housing, safe streets and good schools.

As Secretary Donovan concluded his remarks in Chicago, announcing the Choice grants in the context of another tragic shooting, he quoted President Obama’s 2007 speech about this new approach to expanding opportunity in distressed neighborhoods—“If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can’t just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community.”

Larkin Tackett is the Director of Place-Based Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement

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ED Releases FY 2011 Budget Tables

The Department of Education posted new budget tables today showing final program funding levels for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. The Obama administration had to accept some very difficult budget cuts in the continuing resolution that Congress passed in April to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, and ED faced one of the toughest budget environments in recent history.

The Department of Education sought to make the necessary cuts in order to meet President Obama’s goal of reducing the deficit, while also making critical investments in programs that will help our country out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.

Despite the need to make cuts, the Obama administration successfully fought for, and received, a $5.5 billion increase in funding for Pell Grants, ensuring that more than 9 million college students will continue to receive Pells up to a maximum of $5,550.

The Department also received funding for several of President Obama’s top education priorities, including $700 million for Race to the Top, $150 million for the Investing in Innovation program, $30 million for Promise Neighborhoods, as well as funding to maintain levels for key formula programs such as Title I and IDEA.

Click here to find the FY11 budget tables.

Communities Must Come Together


Secretary Duncan meets students at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School campus, the location of the Promise Neighborhood town hall meeting.

“There is a role for every one of us to play. There is no ‘they.’ It is us. We want to make this an example of what can be done,” said Alma Powell, Co-Chair of America’s Promise, yesterday at a town hall meeting highlighting the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative. Joined by Secretary Duncan, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, and other guests, Powell’s comments highlight the importance of the Promising Neighborhood grants, and how they can bring individuals and groups together to transform neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into neighborhoods of opportunity.

During the town hall meeting, Secretary Duncan announced that the Department of Education has an additional $30 million to make a second round of Promise Neighborhoods grants, and explained how important community is to the success of the Promise Neighborhoods Program:

This work is a triumph of common sense. To see this community come together systemically can be a model for the nation.  Schools cannot do this by themselves. The community must come together.

The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative located in northeast Washington is one of the 21 grantees awarded a Promise Neighborhood planning grant last fall. Grants of up to $500,000 were awarded to nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education working in a diverse set of communities, including major metropolitan areas, small and medium-size cities, rural areas, and one Indian reservation.

The Promise Neighborhoods program is part of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, a cross-agency effort that includes the White House Domestic Policy Council, and the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Treasury. “Our commitment is broad and deep, and it begins in the White House,” added White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes.

In the coming weeks, the Education Department plans to announce the Promise Neighborhoods application process for the next round of grants. Nonprofits, institutions of higher education and Indian tribes will be eligible to apply. Winners will be selected no later than Dec. 31.

James Guitard

James Guitard is an Education Program Specialist on the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods Team.