Northside gets $28 million boost

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The Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) is getting $28 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhood Grant initiative. NAZ was one of 230 organizations nationwide that applied for the Promise Neighborhood Implementation Grant.

The U.S. Department of Education announced that NAZ was one of only five programs to be awarded in this round of Promise Neighborhood funding. The announcement was made in a press conference Monday at Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School 1601 Aldrich Av. N.

Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Jim Shelton of the U.S. Department of Education delivered the news to a packed audience of education stakeholders and policymakers. U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senator Al Franken, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson joined NAZ CEO, Sondra Samuels in accepting the award.

Left: Family Academy graduates. (Photo: NAZ)

“North Minneapolis is a renewed community today,” said Samuels. “The Promise Neighborhood program and NAZ share the same vision—that all children and youth deserve access to great schools and strong systems of family and community support that will prepare them for college and a career starting at birth.”

The purpose of NAZ is to end multigenerational poverty by significantly improving achievement outcomes for all children and youth in the Zone.

To achieve this goal, NAZ has developed a comprehensive, multi-level change strategy that uses a “high-touch” approach to engage families and children, coordinate services and supports, and build the culture of achievement.

Samuels developed the Northside Achievement Zone in 2010. NAZ is a collaboration of service providers and schools, coordinating the support families need to create the expectations of success.

Right: NAZ Mothers Helena N. and LaTanya B. (Photo: NAZ)

NAZ focuses on a geographic North Minneapolis target area, an 18 by 13 square block bounded by West Broadway on the south, North 35th Avenue on the north, Penn Avenue on the west and Third Street on the east.

This area is experiencing high rates of violence, poverty, unemployment and poor performance public schools.

“The Promise Neighborhood funding will allow us to immediately scale up our services to reach many more families,” Samuels said. “It sets in motion our ability to grow from our current 150 pilot families to our five-year goal of reaching 1,200 families with 3,000 children – all successfully on a path to college. We hold the belief that all of our families are going to succeed. This isn’t the end of our journey, but just the beginning,” she said.

Left: Northside Achievement Zone Academic Case Manager Kenneth Scales (Photo: NAZ)

“We will win in North Minneapolis; this is a great day,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. “We got this award because a lot of people did a lot of incredible work. We also got this grant because we have one of the largest achievement gaps of any community in the country. What is clear is that this is a call to arms for a crisis that should not be tolerated. The mantle of responsibility is here,” he said.

NAZ seeks to support families and promote academic achievement by creating a culture of success.

“We are all here to acknowledge the unique approach and effort that North Minneapolis has decided to take,” said Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Jim Shelton. “I think it is important that we all remember, that we are also here because the challenges this community faces are unfortunately not unique. It is not unique, that only a quarter of our children will start school prepared for kindergarten; that only a quarter will hit third grade on reading level, or that many high schools in this country have half their students that know when they start they will not graduate. That makes this work all the more important,” he said.

“I am excited about the resources and investment the government is making on our city and state, but particularly in North Minneapolis,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak.

According to a press release, The Promise Neighborhood Implementation funding is estimated at $5million annually for 3-5 years. NAZ currently operates with an annual budget of just over $1 million provided through the support of individual donors, foundations and corporations.

Right: Northside Achievement Zone CEO Sondra Samuels (Photo: Suluki Fardan)

“Promise is the right word,” said Governor Mark Dayton. “There is so much promise in those young faces. Now we will have a chance to show them their full potential, which in turn will help our society reach its full potential,” he said.

The grant will be used to build NAZ infrastructure. NAZ will increase the numbers of engagement team “family coaches” from six to 40. Family coaches from North Minneapolis are trained neighbor-leaders who work one on one with families to build a culture of achievement within their homes.

“The thought, work and innovative ideas that went into this, is inspiring,” said U.S. Senator Al Franken. “The kids and families on the Northside will be the beneficiaries of this, as well as a model to the rest of the country,” he said.

Left: A Family Academy graduate testing the noisemakers at graduation (Photo: NAZ)

The Zone is estimated to be home to more than 5,500 children. A variety of challenging family factors are experienced by these children—including physical and behavioral health, stability and safety of housing, and economic and financial well-being.

“The fact is, if you want to do something about a chronic problem, you have to invest in it,” said U.S. Representative Keith Ellison. “$28 million helps a lot. I am convinced our neighborhood can be a model neighborhood. The goodness of the people will be matched by the success of our lives,” Ellison said.