by Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Richard Raya

It’s no secret that the San Francisco Bay Area’s economic engine is revving more than ever. According to a San Jose Mercury News article, If the nine-county region were a nation — no, it’s actually not, although many here think so! — the Bay Area’s $748 billion Gross Domestic Product would make it the nineteenth strongest economy in the world. (Take that Switzerland, at #20).

The Bay Area has more than its fair share of millionaires, with more being minted daily via the numerous tech I.P.O.s occurring this year.

But, unfortunately, many are being left behind in this modern-day Gold Rush.

These stats below, showcasing the wealth gap creating unprecedented inequity in the region, are from the forthcoming Bay Area Equity Atlas (available starting June 5 at This data-driven atlas is produced by a partnership of the San Francisco Foundation, PolicyLink, and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE).

  • Between 2000 to 2015, full-time workers with the lowest earnings (at the 10th percentile) saw their incomes decline by 13 percent, while the incomes of workers in the middle were completely flat, and top earners (at the 90th percentile) saw their paychecks grow by 13 percent.
  • Meanwhile, between 2011 and 2015, median market rents increased by 36 percent. A family of two full-time workers each making $15/hour can afford market rent only in 5 percent of Bay Area neighborhoods.
  • There are wide economic inequities by race and gender in the region: Among full-time workers of all races, women earn 81 percent of what their male counterparts earn and the largest gender gaps are within the White and Asian or Pacific Islander communities. And while average earnings for full-time workers was about $63,000 in 2015, Native Americans and Latino workers earn about 60 percent of the average, and Black workers earn about 80 percent of the average, while White workers earn about 130 percent of the average.
  • If there had been racial equity in income in 2015, the Bay Area economy could have been $356 billion larger.

Meeting the scale of this egregious inequity takes an initiative of similar magnitude. That’s Promise Neighborhoods, which leverage the success of an ambitious social-policy experiment, the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). Started as a one-block pilot in New York City back in the 1990s, that national model for disrupting the cycle of generational poverty has grown to a 97-block area of central Harlem. President Obama described HCZ as “an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck, anti-poverty effort that is literally saving a generation of children.” The New York Times echoed this sentiment by claiming that HCZ is “one of the most ambitious social-policy experiments of our time.”

After a decade of solid results in low-income communities of color  — from rural Mississippi to urban Los Angeles — it is clear that the bold Promise Neighborhood education model concurrently alleviates poverty and creates educational equity by the implementation of a cradle-to-college-to-career continuum. It’s a trajectory of success.

In San Francisco’s Mission District, the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) is now in its seventh year generating such success via a two-generation, collaborative approach. MPN leverages 20+ community partners — connected via a robust, customized Salesforce referral tool — to provide wraparound services so that our families are strengthened and our students have the tools to head off to college. To date, there have been 2,744 families connected to 5,590 different program referrals, pushed forward by Family Success Coaches dedicated to each school to serve as connectors to the resources available to meet MPN families’ challenges head-on. These resources run the gamut from securing affordable housing and strengthening finances to learning immigration rights and finding a medical home.

Knowing that student success begins before kindergarten, early care and education service providers are also brought into the mix. That has translated to 80 percent of all Latino 4-year-olds in the Mission now being enrolled in preschool, so that they become kinder-ready.

At the other end of the spectrum, our young adults are now graduating from high school and have the tools to head off to college, many the first in their family to do so, often abetted by the assistance of a mentor to whom the student can relate. The exciting news is that Latino graduation rates at the Mission’s John O’Connell High School have increased from 63 percent to 88 percent, while African American graduation rates went from 46 percent to 93 percent.

Now a proven model — and a solid business case — scaling Promise Neighborhoods across the land could be transformative.

In California, there is work to make that happen. SB 686, the California Promise Neighborhoods Act of 2019 penned by State Senator Ben Allen, is currently working its way through the legislative halls of the Capitol in Sacramento. If passed, the measure would mean that the vital work of all six current Promise Neighborhoods in the state can continue uninterrupted, with 20 more Promise Neighborhoods created in areas experiencing a cycle of poverty and underresourced schools.

It’s about creating equity of opportunity for all California kids.



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2018 could have been our final year.

Our grant from the Department of Education had sunsetted and Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) was operating on carryover funds. We didn’t know if we would be here in 2019. We were among 12 Promise Neighborhoods across the country that were eligible for only three available extension grants.

Well, what a difference a year makes!

Our community was successful in winning a two-year, $6 million grant from the Department of Education (DOE) so we now have funding to take our initiative into 2020. Instead of downsizing, we doubled the number of schools and families we are working with in San Francisco’s Mission District and, on top of this, MPN lead agency MEDA is able to use this success to advocate for an increase in the number of Promise Neighborhoods in San Francisco … and across California.

How did we get here? It took a collaborative effort of expert partners.

Our numbers spoke for themselves. Over the six-plus years of our initiative, we used a shared case-management tool to connect 2,744 families with 5,590 different program referrals, ranging from housing and tenants’ rights to job readiness and health care. We were a collaborative of 20 community organizations, aligning our efforts to provide wraparound services to our students and families to work toward common goals. We broke through silos and shared data along the way. Together, we held ourselves accountable to turning the curve on community indicators.

MPN saw the following outcomes in our schools and with our partners:

  • Latino graduation rates increased from 63 percent to 88 percent
  • African American graduation rates increased from 46 percent to 93 percent
  • Ninety-four percent of elementary school families feel a sense belonging at their schools
  • Rate at which students change schools mid-year decreased from 13.9 percent to 7.9 percent
  • Eighty percent of all Latino 4-year-olds in the Mission are now enrolled in preschool
  • Social emotional development scores for 3-year-olds jumped from 24 percent to 82 percent

These outcomes are even more impressive when you take into account the extreme pressures our families are experiencing: unprecedented levels of housing displacement, growing income inequality, all coupled with a national political climate translating to an assault on our community. Our collective work of providing families with coordinated access to mental health services, legal representation, asset building, housing services and more has helped MPN stabilize the Mission by using schools and affordable housing as community anchors.

The U.S. Department of Education grant is an affirmation of the work our partners have done. Our second iteration of MPN is focused on aligning with the City of San Francisco and its School District’s Beacon Initiative, expanding from four to nine schools in the Mission District, increasing our presence at early learning centers, developing parent leaders and reaching out to Family Child Care providers to give their families access to our network of supports. We estimate that we will now be serving approximately 8,000 children and their families in the Mission. With our collective-impact approach, MPN is on pace to have the scale of the solution match the scale of the challenge.

Joining with other Promise Neighborhoods
Other Promise Neighborhoods across the state have seen similar outcomes. Together, the five Promise Neighborhoods in California created a network called CPNN.  The results from the CPNN network, informed the development of a statewide plan to end child poverty. This plan includes a recommendation for the investment by the State of California into a total of 20 Promise Neighborhoods at $5 million per neighborhood, complemented by increased spending on child care, CalWORKS and much more. The plan estimates that the combination of these factors will result in benefits to state and local governments of more than $12 billion annually.  

The plan lays out the seven unique characteristics of Promise Neighborhoods:

  1. Cradle-to-college-to-career continuum to move families out of poverty
  2. Place-based to focus on high-need geographies
  3. Collective impact: collaborate with partners to provide solutions at scale
  4. Align funding streams to achieve shared outcomes
  5. Results-driven, with a focus on population-level results
  6. Equity-focused and explicit in addressing disparities
  7. Community powered to address local needs and build on local strengths

Data sharing, collaboration, accountable to results, good for the economy: Promise Neighborhoods are the embodiment of what we call “good government.” MEDA will be calling for these pilot initiatives to move beyond being simply boutique operations and for them to become the normal way that government delivers services. That’s why MEDA will be taking a busload of community partners and families to Sacramento on Tuesday, Jan. 22, to advocate for this good government. If you would like to join, you can register here, and call Lucia Obregon at (415) 282-3334 ext. 156 to get a seat on the bus (lunch, snacks and child care provided).

One community is not waiting for the State to approve funding for Promise Neighborhoods; instead, it is taking the lead in using its current budget to create Promise Neighborhoods. San Diego County has approved $4 million for a pilot Promise Neighborhood based on the success of its existing Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood. If the pilot is also successful, the plan is to create even more Promise Neighborhoods throughout that county.

Closer to home — and based on the success of San Francisco’s Promise Neighborhood in the Mission District — we believe it’s time for the City and County of San Francisco to begin asking itself if other neighborhoods in the City would benefit from a Promise Neighborhood, particularly during this time of widening income inequality and displacement of working-class families and people of color.

From School Board to Mayor, State Superintendent of Schools to Governor, all the way to the House of Representatives, we are seeing inspiring new leaders take the reins of government. As they highlight the need for a more just society, now is the time for bold equity initiatives based on proven models. Perhaps 2020 will put us on pace to end child poverty.

After all, much can happen in a year!

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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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