It was a historic day last January when 27-year-old educator Gabriela López was sworn in as the youngest-ever San Francisco Unified School District School Board member. As she took her oath — in perfect Spanish, no less — it was clear that López epitomizes the future leadership uniquely positioned to move San Francisco forward.

It was also an exciting day when López recently agreed to join the 16-person Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) Advisory Board, where her unique perspective will push forward our education initiative’s vision to strengthen families so students achieve.

As the daughter of working-class, immigrant parents, Commissioner López is working with the community on a comprehensive, landmark Board Resolution to address the challenges that Latinx students across the city are facing — including many Mission Promise Neighborhood students.

Following is an interview of Commissioner López by Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Richard Raya.

RR: What in your background led you to your work bettering the lives of children?
GL: Growing up in public schools in Los Angeles led to my interest in pursuing public education. I almost immediately saw the mistreatment of students of color, and decided to become a teacher in the third grade. With my understanding of how geography affects the outcome of a student’s success, I immediately wanted to create change in these areas since I saw this affected my community the most.

RR: How does it feel to be the youngest person ever elected to the San Francisco School Board, and what unique perspective do you bring?
GL: Before running, I was told that if I won I would be the youngest woman ever elected to office in San Francisco. Initially, that felt like the furthest thing from reality. And while running, my age became more of an issue because it meant instability to a lot of people, despite the fact that I had the most experience in schools and education. When I found out I won, I was truly shocked, to the point of tears, but am of course extremely proud of this accomplishment and hope to encourage other young folks to do the same! My perspective is closest to the number of new teachers we are serving and my current experience in the classroom provides me the lens necessary when making decisions that better serve all of our students.

RR: Why did you opt to deliver your San Francisco School Board oath in Spanish?
GL: The thought was immediate once I learned about the legal issues that I can work around in order to do it. I knew my parents would attend, and wanted to make sure they were able to hear the words that granted me a seat on the Board. It reminded me of the work I did often as a child to help my parents understand what was happening — and the work that many young people who are bilingual do every day for their families.

RR: How does your vision for San Francisco students align with the vision of MPN to make sure every family succeeds and every student has the opportunity and tools to go to college?
GL: My vision ensures every decision made keeps students at the center. With this in mind, we can move forward in ensuring ALL students have access to a fulfilling, rigorous and empowering education. These, and many other characteristics, are the ones we need as a people to be successful in all areas of work, schooling and socialization. Which is where I can combine efforts and make connections with the work being done at Mission Promise Neighborhood. My role as a leader of the District also includes to call out bias and racism that prevents this from helping achieve this for all of our students.

RR: How does the fact that you were once compelled to supplement your teacher salary with a gig job give you empathy for our MPN families, who often face  the challenge to make ends meet in an increasingly expensive neighborhood?
GL: I am no stranger to holding various jobs to make a living wage. Up until landing my first teaching position in 2015, I was working at a restaurant while finishing my master’s in Education. Throughout my college experience, I had two, sometimes three jobs in order to maintain a living and finish my degree. Some of these jobs required me to work graveyard shifts and many, many nights. I more than empathize with many families who are working hard to survive. I’ve seen my parents go through it, and value it more than many of the qualities I hold. As a teacher in the classroom serving the populations that so often need more than one job to support their children, I focus on making their connections to their child’s education as seamless and accessible as possible, without interfering with their work.

RR: Can you describe the importance of the San Francisco School Board resolution, on which you are currently working, to ensure Latinx students’ equity?
GL: It’s important people understand the power the School Board has over the decisions being made that comes through the district. There are many opportunities to give input, feedback and advice since we are deciding for many different families. Each group has unique needs that the District can support — and the Latinx community is no different. This resolution will be the first of its kind to support a community of folks that even within it has a variety of needs. The resolution can help address what those needs are and how to better serve that specific group. But it can’t be done without much community input!

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Co-authored by:
Associate Director Liz Cortez, Mission Promise Neighborhood
Early Learning Program Manager Ada Alvarado Freund, Mission Promise Neighborhood

Abriendo Puertas Professional Learning Community includes the following partners:
Felton Institute
Good Samaritan Family Resource Center
Homeless Prenatal Program
Mission Neighborhood Centers
San Francisco Unified School District – Early Education Department
Support for Families

Introduction
Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors’ mission is to “support parents in their roles as family leader and as their child’s first and most influential teacher in a home that is their child’s first school.” This two-generation approach builds parent leadership skills and knowledge to promote family well-being and positive education outcomes for children. It is the nation’s first evidence-based comprehensive training program developed by and for Latino parents with children ages 0-5.

Since starting in 2007, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors has trained over 1,800 facilitators in more than 500 organizations, impacting over 80,000 parents/families across the country. The curriculum focuses on early childhood development, early literacy, health, social-emotional well-being, the use of media and technology, numeracy, school preparation and parent advocacy. In 2012, University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development identified that participants had made remarkable growth across all areas of assessment. In the analysis, the largest effects were found in the following areas: school preparation; health development; parenting; and advocacy.

Within the Mission District of San Francisco, a collective of Latino family-serving organizations that are part of the Mission Promise Neighborhood initiative (MPN) — and historically part of First 5 San Francisco’s Family Resource Center initiative — are working together to increase the number of families that access Abriendo Puertas at the neighborhood level.

MPN serves as a backbone organization that supports the collaborative efforts of partner organizations within the Mission District, all working to improve school readiness outcomes and support families. The population of Latinos in the Mission District is approximately 21,000 with 1,700 children ages 0-5. Latino families in the Mission have a median income of $25,000, compared to the San Francisco household median of $78,000.

After learning that turnover of Abriendo Puertas facilitators is a real challenge within our partner network, MPN and partner First 5 San Francisco hosted a community training to rebuild the capacity of these organizations. We also wanted to grow the number of organizations offering Abriendo Puertas. In early 2017, 14 facilitators, representing six organizations, participated in the training provided by Abriendo Puertas. We realized that to maintain the momentum and desire to offer more sessions to families, a one-time training was not going to be enough. So we created a professional learning community and started meeting every two months to share best practices and support each other in growing the work.

The group identified a few results and has mostly focused their collective work on two of them:

  1. More families have access to Abriendo Puertas in the Mission District and San Francisco.
  2. Families feel connected to their Abriendo Puertas family after the series.

Our collective impact
MPN serves as a backbone organization in many ways, including: coordinating the trainings for existing and new facilitators in the community; facilitating the professional learning community for facilitators; and collecting and analyzing the data from various partners to tell a collective story. We have been able to increase the number of organizations offering Abriendo Puertas by 133 percent (from three in 2016 to seven in 2017) and all of these organizations participate in the bimonthly professional learning community to share data and tell a collective story for the community. Our goals for achieving communitywide impact include breaking organizational silos to work together to ensure that more families are accessing Abriendo Puertas, and that when families participate they stay connected to other families and build a community of support.

By the numbers:

  • 133 percent increase in organizations offering Abriendo Puertas while adding 14 new facilitators.
  • 100 percent of organizations offering Abriendo Puertas are participating in the Professional Learning Community and sharing data to tell a collective story.
  • 159 percent increase in Abriendo Puertas participation.

Building the professional learning community
Bringing people together to work on a common result takes coordination support from a lead organization; as such, we work to build relationships and develop trust. This helps with keeping a group engaged over time. Coordination support is critical to the planning of the meetings, the follow up on commitments and the collection of data to tell the collective story. People are busy and therefore appreciate effective meetings: We use the Results-Based Facilitation framework for planning and running our meetings, thereby ensuring that we are all clear on why we are coming together and what the next steps will be. We are also creative in our approach to communicating across the group. In addition to holding meetings every two-months for one-and-a-half hours — complemented by one-on-one check-ins — we stay connected via a Facebook group page. We ensure that all of our communication is consistently and constantly messaging the vision and agreements for scaling this work.

The MPN Abriendo Puertas learning community includes 100 percent of the organizations in the community that offer Abriendo Puertas, and the facilitators collectively developed group results or goals and how they will measure progress. At this moment, the data that is shared includes the number of participants and the number/percent that graduate from a series. In addition to having a collective goal of increasing the number of participants, the professional learning community is a space for facilitators to support each other and share best practices. We have seen organizations pair up to co-facilitate sessions and have also seen newer facilitators learning from more-seasoned facilitators. The group has developed a year-round community calendar that informs families of where a series is being offered across organizations.

Organizations in our community have a high level of staff turnover, making it difficult to stay aligned to reach our goals. In addition, facilitators have multiple demands on their time and therefore joining meetings outside of their own organization is often challenging. We find it key that supervisors — and the leadership of each organization which is participating — is fully supportive of the facilitators that attend the meetings and understand the goals of the group.

Results of working together
Since working together to increase capacity in facilitators and new organizations offering Abriendo Puertas in early 2017 and the creation of the professional learning community, we have seen a year-by-year increase in the amount of participants that are engaging in the program. As seen in Figure 1, we have seen participation increase by 159 percent since the beginning of 2017.

In addition to engaging in the program, we want participants to feel connected to their Abriendo Puertas family after they graduate, so we hosted our first “Fiesta Comunitaria Abriendo Puertas” in September of 2018. There were 289 family members who came out to celebrate family leadership and promote social connection among families. The professional learning community conducted a post-event survey to gather feedback from families. One parent shared, “I learned that the Abriendo Puertas program is more than a parenting program …  it is also a movement at the national level.”

One story: Olga, Abriendo Puertas facilitator and professional learning community member
What is it like being part of this learning community? How have you felt supported as a first-time facilitator and the only one offering it through your organization?

“The provider learning group meetings have been really useful because they give me the opportunity to keep connected to providers of other organizations, to know what they are doing in the community, the classes they are planning to offer in the future and we can discuss relevant topics related to Abriendo Puertas and the scaling of the work citywide.

“Since it was the first time that I facilitated — and also the first time that our agency implemented this program — it would have been helpful to have had more staff trained within our agency. Being a part of the professional learning community was supportive and crucial, since any questions that I had, they were there to answer and, more importantly, to connect me with a facilitator from another agency that co-facilitated a series with me.”

Next Steps to Deepen our Work
Focusing on the pre-/post-assessment
We have learned that organizations use the participant pre- and post-assessment in different ways, and some not at all. Partner organizations have found the assessment too long, so participants find it difficult to answer. Some organizations have created their own pre- and post-assessment questions, while others have broken down the questions into separate pre- and post-assessments to give to participants by session. For example, one partner uses creative ways of capturing the increase in knowledge, using a learning tree with each leaf documenting a participant’s thoughts and learnings after a session. Not having the same pre- and post-assessment data across organizations has limited the kind of analysis that we can do. We will continue to find ways of aligning our assessments to demonstrate our collective story and impact.

Participation versus graduation
In addition to scaling so that more families access Abriendo Puertas, we want more families to complete all of the session, and at least enough sessions to graduate. In 2019, some partners will be focusing on graduating more families by developing more intentional strategies for retention and engagement of participants. We want all families to feel recognized for participating and we will promote certificates for participation and certificates for graduation.

Linkage to advocacy and leadership development opportunities after the series
We want to follow up with families after they have graduated to see how they are doing with their goal-setting and how we can support their advocacy and leadership goals. We have learned that some families are starting to take on advocacy and leadership roles within their schools and in their community. We want to document and celebrate how they are getting involved and putting their advocacy skills to practice.

We will continue to build the facilitator capacity in our community by offering additional trainings for our partners. This will allow us to continue to scale the work in the Mission District, and across San Francisco. Working collectively in a professional learning community allows us to support each other while trying to achieve these big goals of ensuring that more families participate and graduate from Abriendo Puertas, plus that they feel connected to their Abriendo Puertas family after they graduate.

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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. MPN partners provide a network of support services to help families achieve economic stability and the tools needed to support their children’s academic achievement, creating a brighter future for the whole Mission community.

 

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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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Mural by Mel Waters and David Hyde Cho, Mission and 19th streets, San Francisco Mission District

Christopher Gil
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA)
(415) 282-3334 ext. 152
cgil@medasf.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 10, 2018

Richard Raya Takes the Helm as Director of San Francisco’s Mission Promise Neighborhood
Will leverage years of experience in related fields to showcase results for families and students

San Francisco, Calif. — The Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) is ushering in fresh leadership with the start of 2018, announcing that Richard Raya will be the education initiative’s new director. The innovative strategy of the nation’s 17 Promise Neighborhoods is to commit to getting every neighborhood child into college or career by working with schools to connect families to a community network of support resources and using intensive data collection to measure results. MEDA is the lead agency of MPN, which includes over 25 partners.

MPN has seen numerous successes over its five years of community collaboration, including dramatic increases in high school graduation, augmented numbers of parents reading to their children and helping them meet early literacy milestones, and bringing valuable social-emotional and academic supports to neighborhood schools. (Read results report.)

As MPN enters its sixth year, the focus is now on how to accelerate impact in its next phase, and securing long-term funding to sustain the collaborative.

“This work combines my experience developing cross-agency programs to address community challenges with my equitable development and fundraising experience. All of these skills will need to be brought to bear in the current environment. I’m excited to join the MEDA team, which is at the forefront of community services with its family Asset Building programs and development of affordable housing,” explains Raya.

Prior to joining MEDA, Raya was chief of staff for an Oakland city councilmember. Raya mediated community-benefit negotiations. Before this, Raya served as executive director of Youth Radio, and director of administrative services for the Alameda County Public Health Department. At Youth Radio, he used grant writing and donor outreach to increase revenue and develop its first operating reserve. At Alameda County, he managed a $120 million budget and spearheaded the effort of the Interagency Children’s Policy Council to establish the county’s first results-based accountability (RBA) budget for tracking the outcomes of programs for children.

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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. missionpromise.org

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