Blogby Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Raquel Donoso

On a fluke, I attended a Barack Obama rally in Oakland back in 2006. The affable senator from Illinois was not yet running for president, but he drew an impressive crowd.

Obama was magnetic. His audience was electrified.

I left that day filled with incredible hope. That feeling carried forward into the 2008 presidential campaign, with the word “HOPE” emblazoned in capital letters on posters hung in windows and planted in lawns across the land. Many downplayed my early support, claiming Obama’s time had not yet come. They were proved wrong that November.

This Friday, as our nation ushers in its 45th president, it is the perfect time to reflect on the past eight years of a historic presidency. Let’s applaud the legacy of success of President Obama.

Immediately upon taking the helm, President Obama was tasked with the enormous challenge of an economy in dire straits. Not since the Great Depression eight decades earlier had things seemed so shaky. It was time to act with resolve.

One core piece of President Obama’s economic strategy was the initiation of a set of place-based programs and funding to redefine how low-income neighborhoods fight poverty. These programs — Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods and Promise Zones — have created a model for achieving results. This model needs to carry on.

As the director of San Francisco’s Mission Promise Neighborhood, which is one of 18 federally funded Promise Neighborhood implementation sites, I know firsthand the continued need for such an innovative,  place-based initiative. The Mission District is San Francisco’s historically Latino, immigrant community, overflowing with the promise of a better future for the young families and children living in the neighborhood. Sadly, it was once all too often the case that our families’ aspirations were not coupled with tangible prospects.

The Mission Promise Neighborhood has been changing that reality … block by block, family by family, student by student.

In just four years, we have seen graduation rates at our target high school increase by 10 percent (now 78 percent), nearly reaching the average for San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) as a whole. Our middle school is now deemed one of the most improved and sought after in the district. At the elementary level, last year both of our target schools had major gains in third- and fifth-grade English Language Arts proficiency — a true high point.  Our schools have also seen major increases in attendance, accompanied by decreases in chronic absenteeism and expulsions.

These improvements have been possible because of President Obama’s vision of a whole-community, results-focused approach.

Perhaps President Obama’s greatest legacy is that there are now hundreds of thousands of parents, students and community leaders who have forever been impacted by the investments he pushed forward. Families are gaining momentum, working in new ways to ensure every child receives impactful schooling, with the opportunity for a post-secondary education. This translates to success on so many levels.

Thank you, President Obama, for having the foresight and courage to tackle neighborhood poverty as a way to strengthen our communities. Your legacy will live on through the creation and sustainability of Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods and Promise Zones. The seeds have been planted, and now is our time to scale and strengthen the cradle-to-college-to-career pipeline that is already working in so many neighborhoods across the country. Our nation’s future depends on it.

Let’s keep “HOPE” alive.


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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MPN-ESSA Passage-Blog 121515
by Raquel Donoso, Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood

There was some great news on December 10th, as President Obama added his signature to the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), now officially the law of the land. ESSA is a reauthorization of the five-decades-old Early and Secondary Education (ESEA) Act of 1965.

The President had pushed for ESSA’s passage before the calendar turned to another year, seeing the bill as a way to address gaps in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The administration explained what needed to be remedied as follows: “The goals of No Child Left Behind were the right goals: Making a promise to educate every child with an excellent teacher. That’s the right thing to do, that’s the right goal. Higher standards are right. Accountability is right … but what hasn’t worked is denying teachers, schools and states what they need to meet these goals.”

Seeking social justice and equity in education, a cadre of community-based organizations worked tirelessly to help get this act passed. This included the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink.

Of ESSA’s 1,061 pages, these specific items pertain the most to the continuing work of Promise Neighborhoods:
• Ongoing funding of existing Promise Neighborhoods (based on performance to date).
• Establishing the Promise Neighborhoods program as a pipeline of services to foster academic achievement for students from underresourced communities.
• Requiring support of existing Promise Neighborhoods, with regards to planning, implementation and evaluation.
• Support for full-service community schools that improve access services for students residing in low-income communities.
• A mandate that three Promise Neighborhoods grants be awarded annually, based on availability of funds, by the Secretary of the Department of Education.

As director of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN), I understand the significance of ESSA’s passage. This is exciting news for all Promise Neighborhoods, as they are now being given the continued opportunity to make long-term impacts in our communities. The Mission Promise Neighborhood, now well into its third year, is starting to see improved family economic success. This is translating to student academic achievement and a college-going culture being created in homes throughout the Mission District of San Francisco.

The MPN team, community partners and our families thank all who worked for the passage of ESSA–a bill that is vital to promoting social equity across the nation.

Read the full ESSA Act.

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