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St. Paul's Promise Neighborhoods begin planning
St. Paul's Promise Neighborhood project brings together public and private talent and effort, focusing on a 250-block area surrounding Jackson and Maxfield schools. The partnership includes the city, county, school district and private organizations, with the Wilder Foundation leading the initial planning stage. The Daily Planet spoke to Paul Mattessich, Executive Director of Wilder Research, about the plan and goals for the next two years.
Mattessich described the yearlong planning process that started on October 1. The first step involves conducting a two-part needs assessment that will include a community survey and an analysis of neighborhood statistics. An advisory board of community members will create and conduct this survey in November or December. The analysis of neighborhood statistics will consider the results from the survey and will also incorporate research regarding graduation rates, health data for students at various ages, the occurrence of juvenile delinquency, and crime data for the neighborhoods.
Another crucial element for project planning is Solution Action Groups, whose members include not only community members but also experts of various needs that exist in the community, such as health education. These groups will consider the best ways to serve children in the neighborhood so that they succeed in school. Six Solution Action Groups focus on early childhood, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and community building.
More on Promise Neighborhoods in St. Paul
In September, Saint Paul was one of 21 cities in the nation to receive a federal Promise Neighborhood Grant, a $500,000 award that will help fund community development programs to benefit students, schools, and families, as well as the surrounding community. The Promise Neighborhood's planning and implementation relies on a consortium of public and private groups that provide services and develop programs to serve the Summit-University and Frogtown neighborhoods around Jackson and Maxfield schools.
For more information, see:
Promise Neighborhood: A Promising Prospect by Paul Mattessich
Creating the Maxfield-Jackson Children's Zone in St. Paul by Kristal Leebrick
Using the information gathered from the community survey, neighborhood analysis and Solution Action Groups, Mattessich said plans for a network of cradle-to-career services will be developed between January and June of 2011. The Wilder Foundation will then submit a funding proposal to the federal government for implementation of the plan.
Cradle-to-career services focus on access to health care both for the child and the parent, and also ensure that both the child and parent have easy access to education. Education plans might include, for example, a pre-natal parenting class for young or new parents. These services emphasize healthy living as well as encourage the pursuit of education, then carry on through the age groups as students get older and require different services, such as out-of-school activities and programs.
Mattessich mentioned that the creation or expansion of programs doesn't necessarily mean the implementation of formal services that cost money. Instead, programs could rely on community members' participation and involvement in the lives of students and "allowing community members to take care of one another." He said that neighborhoods should ask themselves, "What are supports that already exist in the community that aren't formal programs?"
Benchmarks for progress in the planning phase will include whether or not a cradle-to-career plan has actually been created, membership in Solution Action Groups of a fully inclusive and representative group of neighbors, and completion of research as expected by the federal government's standards.
Ongoing questions include whether or not the needs assessment indicators are "moving in the right direction" for improving the community, as well as an analysis of achievement rates, attendance patterns, and health conditions of students. According to Mattessich, these indicators and statistics will be reevaluated each year. The community's response throughout the planning and implementation of the project, particularly that of the parents of students or pre-K children, is especially important in gauging the effectiveness of the Promise Neighborhood project. Another community survey will probably be conducted in the future to get some of these responses.
"It is a great honor for Saint Paul to be one of twenty-one cities out of three hundred who got this grant," said Mattessich. For the Wilder Foundation, the Promise Neighborhood project offers an opportunity to more deeply engage in community development initiatives and provide leadership in research for Saint Paul neighborhoods by employing the skills that they have. Implementation of this plan in these neighborhoods would also provide other communities with a model for effective community development and improvement.
In response to a previous article regarding the Promise Neighborhood Grant for Saint Paul, one Roseville reader commented, "The biggest challenge is that there is three-fourths of a million dollars at stake...To be successful, and be a future recipient of other grants, every dollar will have to be accounted for. Money has the potential for corrupting and this project has to be squeaky clean."
Mattessich emphasized the Wilder Foundation's commitment to financial transparency and assuring that every dollar will be accounted for. Mattessich assures, "There is nothing behind closed doors."
©2010 Andrea Richards