Calle 24 Latino Cultural District

by Mission Promise Neighborhood Director Raquel Donoso

Education and income are tied together. I knew that as a little girl.

My father didn’t go to college right after high school; instead, he earned his GED in the Army. My mom did eventually earn her B.S. degree when she was in her late 30’s. I saw my family’s opportunities grow as a direct result of higher education.

It was while I was at U.C.L.A. that I first learned I could have an impact on an entire population.

I was involved in a leadership program and worked with a cohort of students to write and advocate for a bill to increase the hourly wage for in-home support service workers in California. After numerous trips from my home of Los Angeles to the capital of Sacramento to meet with legislators, our bill finally arrived at then Governor Wilson’s desk … where it was ultimately killed. Despite our loss, the experience ignited something in me that has never been extinguished since. This is a fire lit by the idea that anyone can improve the lives of hundreds of thousands — even millions — of working families.

That fire remains stoked by the need to fix our broken systems.

It is unfair that we live in a world where some children and families have everything while others struggle, and I aim to change that reality.

Over the last fifteen years, this has translated to my working on statewide policy issues to improve health access, reproductive rights, the environment and income for working families. I even led a foundation with a mission to increase funding equity for communities of color, so that organizations had more resources to improve the lives of families.

Despite successes, trends in California remain disturbing. Numerous studies have documented that there is a widening gap in earnings, with income inequality being larger in California than the rest of the nation. While we live in a country that romanticizes a bootstrap narrative that those at the bottom have mobility to become part of the middle or upper classes, it is simply not the case. In the U.S., the likelihood of someone being stuck in the income group in which they were born is higher than in many industrialized nations. We know education plays a major role in this inequity. Wages for those without a high school degree declined by more than 20 percent from 1979 to 2011, while during that same period wages rose by 12 percent for those with a Bachelor’s degree, and more than 20 percent for those with an advanced degree.

I joined the Mission Promise Neighborhood as the director in 2014. This federal initiative works at the intersection of population, program and individual-level change. Mission Promise Neighborhood is a comprehensive initiative of dozens of community organizations, city agencies and leaders working together to ensure every single Mission child has the resources to thrive, from cradle to college to career.

This is by far the most-challenging work of my life, even surpassing my having been a teenage mother who struggled to raise a son on her own.

My work has challenged everything I thought I knew about systems change. Most of what I knew focused on changing administrative and legislative policy. We knew better laws were adopted; we never worked to understand how the reality changed for real families in our community. We did not know if that change meant that education and income opportunities grew at the individual level.

I now lay awake at night thinking about the thousands of Mission Promise Neighborhood families we collectively serve. Individual cases run through my mind. Will Ana’s daughter to college? And will that mean that her family is ultimately better off as a result?

I walk into our schools and see the faces of families that our systems have neglected. In the rapidly gentrifying Mission District of San Francisco, our entire community is now at stake. I often wonder if our families will be able to survive — and thrive — in a neighborhood that seems to be slipping through their fingers.

The good news is that the Promise Neighborhoods are part of a growing movement in this country. A movement of community leaders and families ready for more. A movement backed by funders such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, working with us to foment change.

The Casey Foundation has worked with the Promise Neighborhoods to unlock the tools and support to achieve population-level results. We grapple with the concept that trying hard is not good enough. We have to go deeper, work smarter and think differently about the immense opportunities before us. Promise Neighborhoods is not about how many individuals were served, but whether collectively we have created communities of opportunities for our children and their families.

Today, I am proud to announce that I have been selected into the 10th class of the Annie E. Casey Children and Family Fellowship. It is a great honor … and an even greater responsibility.

Over the next 16 months, I will deepen my ability to lead this major system reform and join alum — from the Bay Area, California and nationwide — who are all committed to improving the lives of children and their families.

On behalf of the Mission Promise Neighborhood, I thank the Casey Foundation for their direct influence on our work. We are excited to take this work to the next level for the sake of our kids.

After all, the little girl in me has never forgotten that education and income are tied together.


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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Guest Blog-MPN-Erika Bernabei PolicyLink Blog_v2When I consider how the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink (PNI) does its work with the 50+ communities in our network, I think about how we have developed the national infrastructure for improving the educational and development outcomes for the poorest children in America. PNI has developed a disciplined approach to thinking and moving from talk to action, and a system of technical assistance that:

  • Helps local leaders achieve results more quickly and effectively,
  • Makes the case that cradle to career solutions are working across America, and
  • Scales up, refines and sustains results

PNI’s support has always been demand-driven by leaders who are implementing a Promise Neighborhoods cradle to career strategy. When we began as a collaborative between PolicyLink, the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, we knew that leaders would be starting this journey to achieve results at scale from different stages of readiness. Consequently, we spent our first year listening to their needs and co-designing and implementing our system of supports.

After that first year, based on the feedback we received, we realized that in order to support local leaders, we needed to develop a strong, results-driven infrastructure. Doing so allowed leaders to focus on the hard work of implementing their vision rather than determining the tools they need to do their work. We developed a system of supports that is free, optional and based on the management tool Results-Based Accountability. It includes access to a data dashboard (Promise Scorecard) and a case management system (Efforts-to-Outcomes™) that provides communities with the tools to visualize and use data for learning, continuous improvement and shared accountability.

We also offer communities of practice in the following subject areas: asset building/family financial security, boys and young men of color, data, early childhood, health and policy. Additionally, we offer opportunities for peer-to-peer coaching and learning, and intensive support for Promise Neighborhoods implementation grantees to build their expertise in becoming results-driven leaders through our Skills to Accelerate Results (STAR) Leadership Development Program.

This set of resources allows the entire PNI network to speak the same language of results, coach each other, and share evidence based best practices. In fact, just this week PNI released the Promise Neighborhoods Peer Learning Tool, which highlights examples of promising solutions and competencies for implementing and sustaining this work culled from Promise communities who were willing to share their experiences with their colleagues! You can access this tool, and a host of other resources, by visiting the PNI website.

Sixteen million, or almost one-quarter, of American children live in poverty. If the Promise Neighborhoods movement is successful, at least 1.6 million of these children will have the obstacles to opportunity removed. Achieving this goal will require us to remain focused on consistently achieving results over the next 20 years. And, as Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Erika Bernabei, Senior Program Associate
Promise Neighborhood Institute at PolicyLink

Erika Bernabei manages the Promise Neighborhood Institute’s technical assistance to support the ability of Promise Neighborhood leaders to advance equity, opportunity and results for children and their families. She manages PNI’s suite of supports–including leadership development, data infrastructure and training on data use, access to experts on cradle to career solutions and problem solving coaching –that accelerate the ability of Promise Neighborhoods initiatives to transform their communities. Prior to joining PolicyLink, Bernabei worked on youth justice issues at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York, NY, and in the housing division at Legal Aid in Oakland, CA. Bernabei holds an MA in Politics and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and is a PhD candidate in Education Leadership at New York University.

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