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With Vision and Determination, YPI’s L.A. Promise Neighborhood Charts Its Own Path

While tightening national, state and local budgets are posing significant challenges for much of the country, at least one local Promise Neighborhood grantee seems undeterred.

Combining its long-held vision with an aggressive approach to fundraising, the Youth Policy Institute (YPI) is charting its own path in Los Angeles, sustaining a growth trajectory seldom matched in the nonprofit community in good times or bad.

In so doing, this new UNCA member may become a model for others, making a virtue of necessity by accomplishing transformative change with the resources at hand.

Two Neighborhoods: Pacoima and Hollywood

One of the more interesting choices made by YPI during the lead up to its Promise Neighborhoods application was the decision to focus not on one Los Angeles neighborhood, but two: Pacoima and Hollywood. Of the two, Pacoima was the easier choice because of YPI’s long-standing presence there. Moreover, poverty and economic distress have been a fact of life in this San Fernando Valley neighborhood for more than 50 years. Today “most businesses in the area consist of pawn shops, liquor stores, check cashing outlets, storefront churches, and automobile repair shops,” according to its Promise Neighborhood proposal. The neighborhood’s population of 32,000 is largely Hispanic (92%) and about a quarter of its families live in poverty.

In also choosing to include Hollywood, however, YPI took a chance. Nationally, Hollywood is seen as the home of the entertainment industry, a chosen destination for many Americans. But the reality is far different. With more than 36,000 people living on the streets, including many homeless youth who are runaways and vulnerable to exploitation, poverty rates in the target neighborhood are actually higher than in Pacoima. “Prostitution, drug dealing, tourist robbery, and pan handling are all easy (and criminal) alternatives to gainful employment in Hollywood,” according to the proposal.

This need was one reason to include Hollywood. Another was that it was a good place to scale up the existing efforts in Pacoima. The target neighborhood is comparable in size (37,382). It also allowed the project to take advantage of a new YPI-operated FamilySource Center with $1 million in annual city funding -- one of 16 that comprise a signature citywide anti-poverty initiative focused on academic achievement and increasing family income.

The Saturation Model

That work is actually just the latest manifestation of YPI’s ongoing commitment to neighborhood-level work, one that predates its Promise Neighborhood application by many years. In 2004, when its Executive Director, Dixon Slingerland, saw a New York Times Magazine cover story on the Harlem Children’s Zone, he already knew that this was what YPI was all about. “That was what we were building toward,” he said.

At the time, YPI was already developing what it calls a “Saturation Model” – a comprehensive community-based strategy that includes afterschool programs, mentoring, parent engagement, case management, college preparation, tutoring, and family support services, all of which have shown strong evidence of effectiveness. The strategy has already substantially increased academic achievement at a large elementary school in Pacoima that was converted into a charter school in 2003, and YPI’s own charter and pilot schools.

When then-Senator Obama announced in 2007 that as President he would support the creation of 20 Promise Neighborhoods, Slingerland was determined that YPI would become one of the 20. “Really, we spent three years thinking about Promise Neighborhoods, getting ready for Promise Neighborhoods, talking about Promise Neighborhoods,” he said.

The long lead-time helped. So too did several other factors. One was YPI’s significant internal capacity. Today, YPI has an annual budget of $35 million and more than 1,200 staff at 125 program sites in L.A. This capacity is the result of an aggressive grant seeking strategy that has resulted in 50 percent growth each year for the past 6 years.

It has also landed more than $11 million in related federal grants just since September. Those grants include $2.25 million from the Department of Education’s Carol White Physical Education Program,  $750,000 from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) for 15 Los Angeles high schools, $5.6 million from the Department of Commerce for 80 computer centers, and the second of two Full-Service Community Schools grants from the US Dept. of Education ($2.5 million).

YPI also substantially benefited from its long-standing work with schools. It currently partners in various ways with more than 70 schools throughout the city. It also runs three schools of its own, including two charter schools and a pilot school, and plans to open more charters and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) network partner schools in 2011, targeting Hollywood and Pacoima.

"YPI is one of our really great partners,” said Monica Garcia, president of the board of the LAUSD. "Its work in the Promise Neighborhood will take advantage of our public school choice process, where outside agencies and teacher teams are applying to operate and turn around schools and give parents a real choice between traditional, charter, pilot, and network partner schools."

A final factor in the project’s success was the support of a large number of committed partner organizations. This was further leveraged by support from an innovative local collaborative of foundations, schools, and city and county officials called the Los Angeles Neighborhood Revitalization Working Group. This collaborative effort also supported the city’s other successful Promise Neighborhoods application submitted by Proyecto Pastoral.

With all of these resources at hand, does the Los Angeles Promise Neighborhood have it covered?  Not yet. While the project has enough on hand to “touch” 65% of the two neighborhoods’ populations, according to Iris Zuniga, YPI’s Chief of Staff, “it’s just a start,” she said. More is needed.

Unfortunately, while the state of California is helping with some of the funding – principally for afterschool services – it has not actively engaged with the project and is not likely to, given the state budgetary situation. That means more will be needed from the federal level.

“There isn’t any new money,” Slingerland acknowledged, “but there are ways to get creative with existing resources. Particularly given the question marks about Promise Neighborhoods funding, we need to redirect other funding streams if this is going to work.”

“We All Need to Pull This Together”

Like the other grantees, the Los Angeles Promise Neighborhood is now well into its planning year. So far, things are going smoothly. Meetings are being held with the principals of neighborhood schools. All of the working groups have met. Two general meetings have already been held for all of the project partners.

“At that first partner meeting, with 50 people in the room, everyone was so pumped,” said Slingerland. “There was not a single negative or challenging comment.”

It was all the more remarkable, according to Karina Favela, the project director, because “Geoffrey Canada said there’s always going to be resistance. If you’re bringing in something new, there is going to be resistance.” Indeed, like every project, the Los Angeles Promise Neighborhood ran into some of this.

But they also saw the big picture.  “The message was that we all need to pull this together,” said Zuniga. “How do we get that national spotlight and make sure our neighborhoods get that attention? How do we tell our story?”

The answer?  “We all realized that it’s not about your organization or mine, but what it means for the community.” That does not happen very often, she said, but it did this time, and not by accident. Her experience was telling.

“For me, this is personal. I attended a lot of the schools on that transformation list. I grew up in this community … it’s not just another initiative.”

The Power of Neighborhoods in The Big Easy

Dan Baum, the author of "Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death and Life in New Orleans," wrote an interesting article for The Washington Post over the weekend that speaks to the organic power of neighborhoods, which in many ways are more about relationships and people than anything else.

In one section, he wrote "about schemes to turn New Deal-era public housing into expensive condos, to open the whole city to casino gambling, to declare generations-old neighborhoods 'pockets of poverty' and 'clean them out' to make way for mixed-income developments."

The people in New Orleans neighborhoods would have none of it.

In church basements and coffee shops, New Orleanians met over and over, plotting to fend off plans that clashed with their neighborhoods' identities and their city's sense of self. At one gathering in a stifling church on St. Claude Avenue, I recall a woman with tears in her eyes addressing the congregation. "People like to talk about 'hard facts,' " she said, "but they don't consider social networks. We have a huge population of single mothers, a huge population of elderly. These new buildings mean absolutely nothing to us. The social networks mean everything.

I still can't explain exactly how they did it, but the exhausted people in that room -- and people like them all over the city -- drove the barbarians from the gate. Some combination of meetings and marches; T-shirts, fliers and spray-paint on sodden houses ("I'm not leaving for any $$$!"); and occasional hollering at council members and planning commissioners got the message across. The people of New Orleans weren't going to play along. The big plans quietly faded, the blueprints were rolled up and stashed away, and the city grew back organically, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, the way its people wanted.

We like people willing to occasionally "holler" at people in power and stick up for themselves. As we approach the five-year anniversary of Katrina, our hearts are with New Orleans and its people.

President Highlights Kalamazoo Promise

We recently highlighted a conference being held in Kalamazoo, Michigan focused primarily on their local initiative, the Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship program for children enrolled in Kalamazoo public schools. Last night (June 7), President Obama highlighted Kalamazoo's accomplishments in a commencement address.

I’m here tonight because I think that America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo Central about what makes for a successful school in this new century. You’ve got educators raising standards and then inspiring their students to meet them.  You’ve got community members who are stepping up as tutors and mentors and coaches.  You got parents who are taking an active interest in their child’s education -- attending those teacher conferences, yes, turning off the TV once in a while, making sure homework gets done.

Arne Duncan is here tonight because these are the values, these are the changes that he’s encouraging in every school in this nation.  It’s the key to our future.

He continued:

This community could have made excuses -- well, our kids have fewer advantages, our schools have fewer resources -- how can we compete?  You could have spent years pointing fingers -- blaming parents, blaming teachers, blaming the principal, blaming the superintendent, blaming the President.  (Laughter and applause.)

But that’s -- Class of 2010, I want you to pay attention on this because that’s not what happened.  Instead, this community was honest with itself about where you were falling short.  You resolved to do better, push your kids harder, open their minds wider, expose them to all kinds of ideas and people and experiences.

He finished his address by discussing the Kalamazoo Promise.

That’s the reason those donors created the Kalamazoo Promise in the first place -- not for recognition or reward, but because of their connection to this community; because their belief in your potential; because their faith that you would use this gift not just to enrich your own lives, but the lives of others and the life of the nation.  (Applause.)

And I’m told that soon after the Promise was established, a first grader approached the superintendent at the time and declared to her:  “I’m going to college.”  First grader.  “I’m going to college.  I don’t know what it is, but I’m going.”  (Laughter and applause.)

Wisconsin Tries Again for Promise Zone $ Through RTT

While Promise Neighborhoods funding is the primary focus for most of our readers right now, we have long argued that Promise Neighborhoods is not, and will not be, the only source of funding for place-based work. We will continue to explore and write about other possibilities.

One is DOE's $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant program, which is intended to spark innovation and education reform at the state level. State RTT applications run in many different directions, but one application that is particularly noteworthy, at least to us, is Wisconsin's. We have written previously about Wisconsin, and more specifically its incorporation of a place-based effort in Milwaukee in its application. My colleague, Hayling Price, wrote an entire report about it.

Wisconsin's first-round submission was not accepted by DOE. They were not alone -- only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, were eventually chosen. But, according to a June 1 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin is trying again.

Under the new application, the state is seeking $250 million in funding. Of that, $70 million will be set aside for Milwaukee Public Schools. According to Jeff Pertl, a policy initiatives adviser with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the application includes "$10 million to support the development of a neighborhood promise zone similar to the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City."

According to the news article, Wisconsin joins 34 other states and the District of Columbia in submitting a second-round RTT application. The article goes on to report that, according to the U.S. Department of Education, "10 to 15 states may be awarded funds in the second round of the competition. Finalists should be announced at the end of July, and winners are expected to be announced in late August or early September."

More Details

The Wisconsin RTT application includes several pages describing the Milwaukee initiative, called WINS for Children (see pp. 50-57), which is also an applicant for a Promise Neighborhoods grant.

The Promise Neighborhood application is being developed by a planning group that includes the Donors Forum of Wisconsin, the Herzfeld and Zilber Foundations, the Wisconsin Departments of Public Instruction and Administration, the Milwaukee Public Schools (plus two principals of local schools), nonprofit service providers (small and big, such as Penfield Children’s Center, the YMCA, and the Boys & Girls Clubs), and business leaders.

This is clearly a well-funded, well thought out effort that must be considered a gold standard and example for the rest of the nation. They have a lot to be proud of. We want others to follow in their footsteps.

The RTT narrative describes much of what they are doing and includes an implementation time line. Some selected quotes from the narrative follow below:

This initiative is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone and will initially encompass a 110 block geographical area in Milwaukee. All children, ages 0 to 25 that live or attend school in this area will receive a range of family and community supports to help them achieve academic proficiency, gain access to social and economic opportunity, and transition to productive adulthood. WINS for Children takes a comprehensive approach, bringing together evidence-based best practices in education, human development, and community development to establish a pipeline of essential services.

In particular, WINS for Children builds on an infrastructure established by the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative (ZNI) in Milwaukee. The ZNI initiative is a $50 million private philanthropic program that finances direct resident involvement in creating and carrying out comprehensive plans for improving the quality of life in ten central city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

WINS for Children will use a web-enabled data exchange network that incorporates and builds on local and state data systems. The network will be managed by WINS for Children to enable instructional leaders, parents, and service providers to access information on demand and as appropriate. Neighborhood navigators will assist parents in obtaining and understanding information about the well being and academic proficiency of their children and about the overall quality of the schools and services available to them. As a condition of participation and funding, providers will be required to specify their efforts to outcomes for all children, including those with developmental or learning differences, as well as make information about program quality and impact readily available to consumers. Program providers will be identified using partner selection criteria that include: an organizational culture of high standards that uses data to drive performance; a history of a high degree of real collaboration; the presence of systems for quality assurance and accountability; evidence of leadership and whatever-it-takes passion; and alignment between what they can deliver and what is known to contribute healthy human development.

The Zilber Family Foundation is directed by Susan Lloyd, PhD, a former program director of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This philanthropic institution is one of the nation’s largest and a strong contributor to Chicago school reform. It also provided startup support and provides continuing financial support to the Consortium on Urban School Research at the University of Chicago. That connection and the geographical proximity of Milwaukee to Chicago will facilitate joint efforts of scholars from the University of Wisconsin System, the University of Chicago and elsewhere to strengthen and expand the knowledge bases for WINS for Children.

WINS for Children, Inc. is a newly incorporated non-profit organization. It is governed by a 13-member board accountable for ensuring its successful implementation. When fully operational in fall 2010, the WINS for Children board of directors will include four public officials, four civic leaders, and five community leaders. The board is expected to include the director of the Donors Forum of Wisconsin; officials of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the Wisconsin Department of Administration; and other philanthropic, business, and community leaders.

Organizations across the state of Wisconsin have submitted letters in support of Wisconsin’s Race to the Top application. Forty-four letters of support were collected from a broad group of stakeholders, including Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation, representatives of the Wisconsin State Legislature, tribal nations, statewide education associations, STEM leaders, business alliances and higher education groups. These letters demonstrate the high levels of commitment from stakeholders with vastly different interests, coming together in support of Wisconsin’s statewide reform agenda in the four core reform areas. These letters also reflect the level of commitment among these stakeholders to helping further accelerate the pace of reform in Wisconsin over the next four years.


Update: PromiseNet 2010 Conference

We have previously written about the PromiseNet 2010 conference up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but only recently checked back to see the status of things there. Wow! This conference, scheduled from June 16-18, is shaping up quite nicely.

According to the conference sponsors, it is:

For communities wishing to emphasize post-secondary education as the catalyst for economic development and urban vitality, find out how it’s done at PromiseNet.  This is a conference bringing together communities that are using or are interested in exploring place-based scholarship programs modeled after The Kalamazoo Promise.

Here are the things that jumped out at me from the program. Maybe others would interest you:

What it Takes: A College-going Culture Within an Urban District

Presenter: Dr. Michael Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools

Issues of rising expectations, both internal to the school district and external; rising student achievement; growing enrollment; rising Advanced Placement participation; the creation of a literacy community; the creation of a college-going culture; the importance of early childhood education; links with higher education and other partnerships; and the need to create a drumbeat, both within the school district and, more broadly, in the larger education community will all be explored. Come learn from and participate in this session on the creation of a college-going culture. Together, yes we can!

What Do Students Need Most to Succeed in College?

Patricia Williams, Education Coordinator for the Kalamazoo Promise, Western Michigan University; Dr. Rosalyn Wilson, Director, Act 101 and 3R Program, Pittsburgh Promise, Community College of Allegheny County, PA; and Peoria Community College, IL

This session will include panelists who work directly with students and have secured additional resources in an effort to increase the retention of scholarship recipients. What are the supports? How have the supports been received? The panelists will reflect on what is helpful to have implemented district-wide in order to be “college ready”.

Evaluating the Kalamazoo Promise

Panel includes George Erickcek, Senior Economist, Michelle Miller-Adams, Visiting Scholar, and Wei-Jang Huang, Research Associate, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research; Bob Jorth, Administrator, The Kalamazoo Promise; Gary Miron, Professor, Western Michigan University

This session will survey what researchers are learning about the Kalamazoo Promise, now in its fifth year. Representatives of the W.E. Upjohn Institute, Western Michigan University, and the Kalamazoo Promise will present data covering a range of outcomes, including who is using the Promise, how the scholarship is affecting students in grades K-12, and how the program has affected the local and regional economy. Bring your questions and results from your own communities, as there will be plenty of opportunity for dialogue.

Community Alignment: Bringing All the Stakeholders Onboard

Janice Brown, Executive Director, The Kalamazoo Promise; Randy Eberts, President, W.E. Upjohn Institute; Juan Olivarez, CEO Kalamazoo Community Foundation; Sheri Welsh & Associates (Chamber)

Important to the work of promise-type programs is creating a collective vision that aligns stakeholders, develops communication systems, gets to the grass roots, prioritizes projects and creates accountabilities. During this session you will be able to discuss community alignment with the group of community leaders undertaking this process in the Kalamazoo area. Beginning in 2006, it was clear that The Kalamazoo Promise was much more than a scholarship program. Creating the strategic priorities was the first step in this process, and this alignment group has used these priorities in the development of its framework. Find out who is involved, how the work is being done and what the anticipated process will do for this community, and why it is necessary to those communities involved in the development of a promise-type initiative.

Research Approaches to Understanding Promise-type Programs

Facilitated by Elizabeth Stransky Vaade, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, Madison, WI, and Anne Bowles, Policy and Outreach Associate, Institute for Higher Education Policy, Washington, DC.

As communities around the nation explore and implement Promise-type programs, state and national research organizations are taking note. This session will bring together representatives of several groups that are studying Promise-type programs as a new strategy for increasing college access. The Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) will present its research on Postsecondary Opportunity Programs, and the Pathways to College Network will showcase its work on the emergence nationwide of ‘early commitment” scholarship programs. Researchers from communities implementing Promise-type programs will also be invited to present their findings.

Economics of Creative Financing for Promise-type Programs

Facilitators include Chuck Wilbur, Public Policy Associates; Tara Gerstner, Executive Director, The Peoria Promise; Peter Abernathy, Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation.

Communities across the nation are struggling with the question of how to fund a universal place-based scholarship program if they don’t have major “angel” donors who will pay most of the costs. This session will explore creative approaches to promise program financing, including the use of public funding in an era of limited government resources. The session will also look at how Pell Grants and other needs-based resources can be used to make promise programs work and how business sponsored scholarships can fund and enhance a local promise program.

Parent Engagement

Presenters: Chuck Pearson, Principal, Kalamazoo Public Schools; Sue Byers, College Success Foundation, others TBD

Students whose parents are engaged in and supportive of their children’s education perform better in school. How is parent engagement defined? What are parents saying? Which strategies are most effective? How are faith communities involved? What unique challenges exist with parents of minority students? A panel discussion will address these questions and discussion will occur amongst all participants in this session.


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by Dr. Radut