Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood moving forward

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Hard work by hundreds of people, has brought our Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood planning close to the finish line. Now, an announcement by the U.S. Department of Education offers us the opportunity to apply for funding that will enable us to substantially boost our efforts to implement that plan and fulfill our dream to organize an effective network of partners who will work in concert to ensure that every Promise Neighborhood child thrives from cradle to career.

The 250 block Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood has more than 20,000 residents; about 7,200 are children. About half of the households with children have annual incomes of less than $18,000 per year. Among children in grades 3 through 10, about 40 percent perform at grade level in English and math. Just 58 percent of Promise Neighborhood children graduate on time from high school. So, it’s a good place to work to increase educational achievement, although not just because it has plenty of room for improvement. The Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood has many residents who are committed to the success of the neighborhood’s children and who appreciate the advantages of a diverse, centrally-located urban neighborhood, for raising children.

Most parents in the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood believe that their children can receive a quality education in the Saint Paul Public Schools. Four out of five feel that their child is safe at school and in getting to and from school. However, about half of parents feel that they lack enough information about out-of-school-time opportunities and about opportunities for post-secondary education for their children. Many do not spend the recommended amount of time reading with their elementary-aged child; they need to figure out how to do so.

Those are just a few tidbits of the volume of information we gathered about the Promise Neighborhood. They illustrate the definite need in the neighborhood, to improve academic performance, but also the confidence, interest, and strength of parents who want to promote academic success, but need information or assistance to accomplish that.

As we move forward, Wilder is honored to serve for the first two to three years as the sponsoring organization for the initiative, at the request of the Promise Neighborhood Advisory Board. The planning year has included active collaboration among the City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, the Saint Paul Public Schools, the YWCA, the Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation, the Frogtown Neighborhood Association, and the Children’s Collaborative. In the past couple of weeks, more than 30 groups and organizations have expressed a strong interest in joining the collaboration. That number will grow. This offers us a wonderful opportunity to make progress, and to build a continuum of support and encouragement for children from birth to college and beyond.

What are some hallmarks of this planning year? I would note two which make me proud.

We can be proud of the community participation which this year included. Two resident committees began their work in August of 2010, to help with project design. An Advisory Board, which includes neighborhood residents and the leaders of the City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, and Saint Paul Public Schools met monthly, to oversee the project, and will meet weekly in August to complete our new proposal to the federal government. The community survey ensured that we had a comprehensive picture of the neighborhood’s children and their families – from parents’ own points of view. Two, large community meetings have also offered residents the opportunity to provide input. Our Solution Action Groups – six task forces of residents and providers who considered all the possibilities for effectively reaching children, to serve them and their families – have finished their work. They have made recommendations which will guide further Promise Neighborhood efforts in the neighborhood.

We can also be proud of the great data we produced, to enable residents and policy makers to understand the neighborhood. The community survey conducted by Wilder Research provided a scientifically valid sampling of parents in the neighborhood, including interviews with both English and non-English speaking parents. Many cities do not have the capacity to gather such rich information.. In addition, our work this year put a new system in place to track the results of the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood – so we know whether we make progress.

Thanks for your interest. Stay tuned – and join us, if you can!