In December 2012, MEDA worked with city agencies and 25 neighborhood partners to replicate New York’s successful Harlem Children’s Zone in the Mission District of San Francisco. The goal of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) is to guide students on a cradle-to-college-to-career continuum, while helping their families achieve economic success.

Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Richard Raya (photo, lower right) is now spearheading this innovative initiative.

What background do you bring to leading the Mission Promise Neighborhood?
I’m a third-generation Bay Area native who grew up in one of California’s largest Section 8 housing complexes. After dropping out of my predominantly Latino high school, I went to community college, then transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where I earned a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in Public Policy. I dedicated my life to helping transform lives the way my life was transformed. The Promise Neighborhood initiative is the embodiment of why I went to college: to help low-income families and communities of color maximize their extraordinary capacity to survive and thrive.

Over the past two decades, I’ve worked with elected officials, administrators and community leaders on data-driven, interagency collaboratives focused on improving program results in low-income communities, as well as on equitable development efforts resulting in affordable housing, below-market retail space and local-hire goals. My positions included director of administrative services for the Alameda County Public Health Department, executive director of Youth Radio and chief of staff for an Oakland city councilmember.

What is the greatest challenge of the Mission Promise Neighborhood?
The greatest challenge of the Mission Promise Neighborhood is that we are trying to solve a problem that no single organization can solve on its own — the challenge of getting every kid in the neighborhood to graduate prepared for college or career. Our collective impact approach of working with partners to provide wraparound services requires a great deal of trust between partner organizations, data sharing, coordination and communication. An additional challenge is that we’re doing all of this while also attempting to prevent these students from being displaced by the massive economic forces reshaping the face of San Francisco, and national policies threatening some of our immigrant families. Lastly, our initial federal grant is in its sunset phase; although we will be applying for an extension grant when it is released in the next few months, this award is not guaranteed. Our challenges are many, but we have the team, partners and infrastructure to meet these challenges.

What are the greatest successes of the Mission Promise Neighborhood to date?
A lot of people say they are working on collective impact, but few are pulling it off. The partners of the Mission Promise Neighborhood are pulling it off — collaborating and building relationships across silos and service system barriers, and using a common database to share information and provide wraparound services. In addition, MPN is also working with families to help them develop the assets to control their destinies, and preserving and building affordable housing to keep families in place and stabilize our community.

The high school graduation results are in: Rates increased dramatically for Latino and African American students. Over the five years of the MPN partnership, Latino graduation rates increased from 62 percent to 88 percent at John O’Connell High School, and African American graduation rates went from 46 percent to 93 percent.

It’s always going to be difficult to take direct credit for outcomes in a collective impact approach. The greatest success may be the relationships built among providers — the schools, the community agencies — and the buy-in to use a common referral system and share data.

MPN created a referral tool for partners to use to provide wraparound services to students and their families. After 2.5 years of collecting referral data (January 2014-August 2017), the MPN partners generated 4,389 referrals and impacted 2,303 individual families. (Read data brief.)

MPN has also built an awesome team. Our family success coaches have gotten to know students, families and school principals, and are responsible for making the referrals to community partners. Combined with our administrative and evaluation staff, this forms the backbone of the collective impact work. I’ve heard it said that with the right team you can accomplish anything. I feel that way with this team.

What is your vision for Mission Promise Neighborhood for 2018 and beyond?
The Mission District is one of the greatest neighborhoods in San Francisco, which itself is one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s an honor for San Francisco to host a flagship initiative such as a Promise Neighborhood. San Francisco has an opportunity now to decide what the next version of its Promise Neighborhood will look like. My vision is that we will double down on the collective impact infrastructure built by MPN, build on the relationships developed with partners, and expand services to more students and their families. This vision is not mine alone; it was developed by the MPN partners in a sustainability planning session last summer. Our vision is that we will continue sharing data across agencies as a means to make program decisions, while holding ourselves accountable to measured results, all framed by the agreement that we are responsible for each other’s children. In addition, we will strive to be guided by authentic community voice, and strengthen the ties of MPN to our broader MEDA asset building, affordable housing and parent leadership work. It’s an exciting time.

In my first four weeks, I’ve met dozens of partners, and I’ve visited all four of our Promise Neighborhood campuses: John O’Connell High School, Everett Middle School, and Bryant and César Chávez elementary schools. Our schools are the centers of our community, the fulcrum of our collaboration and the best places to meet our young people and their families. There is a lot that happens before children even enter school, so I’ve also toured the Felton Family Development Center, one of our early learning partners. This outreach will continue throughout the next few months, culminating in a report this spring sharing the considerable accomplishments of our collaborative over the past years, and where we hope to go from here, together. Please email rraya@medasf.org if you’d like to arrange a meeting with me.

There is so much going on in a Promise Neighborhood, so many moving parts, that communication is key. Our team will be redoubling our efforts in using this blog to provide you with regular updates on the great work that our schools and partners are doing.

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About Mission Promise Neighborhood

The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.

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