Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Building Upon the Making Connections Experience for Promise Neighborhoods

On April 30, 2010, the Department of Education released the anxiously awaited Promise Neighborhoods Program Notice Inviting Applications. We will continuously provide our analysis of this important opportunity, but wanted to provide some initial highlights from the Planning Grant application notice that we believe Making Connections sites and partners are well-positioned to describe.

In developing the Promise Neighborhoods Planning Grant proposal, the applicants are required to:

 Describe the geographically defined area to be served and the level of distress in that area based on indicators of need and other relevant indicators.

 Describe how the applicant will plan to build a continuum of solutions designed to significantly improve educational outcomes and to support the healthy development and well-being of children in the neighborhood.

 Describe the applicant’s organizational capacity to plan and implement a Promise Neighborhood.

 Describe how the applicant will plan to sustain and “scale up” the proposed Promise Neighborhood across the broader region beyond the initial neighborhood over time.

 Describe the commitment the applicant anticipates receiving from partners.

 Describe how the applicant will plan to track available sources and funding levels of Federal, State, and local funds that could be utilized in the project.

 Describe how the applicant will plan to identify Federal, State, or local policies, regulations, or other requirements that would impede the applicant in achieving its goals and report those impediments to the Department and other relevant agencies.

 Describe how the applicant will plan to use data to manage program implementation, inform decision-making, engage stakeholders, and measure success.

 Describe the applicant’s commitment to work with the Department and with a national evaluator for Promise Neighborhoods.

 Identify and describe the academic and family and community support indicators that the applicant will use in conducting the needs assessment during the planning year.

These requirements are described in more detail here.

Given these requirements, Making Connections sites and partner sites are well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity in the following ways:

Serving high-needs communities: the Notice does not define a particular level of need; rather, applicants must describe the level of distress in the target area through indicators of need. These indicators encompass academic needs (attendance in a low-performing school, achievement gaps between subgroups of students) and family and community support needs (children with health needs, crime rates, teen pregnancy rates, number of single parent homes, poverty levels, inadequate access to housing). Making Connections sites already have the experience collecting these kinds of data and working in high needs communities and should be able to identify neighborhoods through these indicators of need.

Building a Continuum of Solutions: Not only does the grant require applicants to describe a continuum of solutions (from cradle through college to career) in the proposal but it also requires all eligible applicants to be currently providing at least one of the solutions from the applicant’s proposed continuum. Making Connections sites have ten years of work to draw upon that should enable meeting both criteria.

Scaling-up the Work: Taking work to scale continues to be a focus of the Making Connections sites. The Notice clarifies that applicants may propose serving multiple, non-contiguous geographically defined areas if a rationale for this is included. One rationale that Making Connections sites that have already been engaged in this work could provide is the ability to take promising solutions to scale by working across communities.

Engaging Partners and the Community: As part of demonstrating organizational capacity, the grantee would be required to show how it has worked with community partners as well as a prior commitment to serving residents. Making Connection sites have already formed these critical partnerships in its work and should already have the necessary relationships in place to begin a dialogue on Promise Neighborhoods activities.

Focusing on Results and Building Capacity: the Notice incorporates the focus on results and capacity building that drove the work of Making Connection sites. Focusing on results and building capacity to achieve these results have been a focus on Making Connections work from the onset. More on the results and capacity building in the grant is discussed here.

Leveraging Local, State, and Federal Resources: A large part of sustaining the work of Making Connection sites has been to leverage and maximize existing resources. Making Connections sites have already been actively leveraging federal resources to continue providing services to their communities.

In addition to these absolute priority requirements, there are other aspects of the grant that could be informed by the experience of Making Connections sites and partners. For example, while there are no specific indicators for family economic success, the family and community support results include ”community stability” which the notice defines to incorporate access to affordable housing, housing counseling, employment and job training, access to services, financial education and access to financial institutions, and asset building. Further, the Notice contains an invitational priority for applications that address civic engagement which could include “efforts to increase the participation of residents, including children and youth, in decisions that affect their community and may improve school performance; efforts to use the perspectives of residents in shaping and evaluating programs; and positive youth development activities such as service-learning programs for students and families that address specific challenges in the neighborhood.”

We will be providing more information and analysis in the coming weeks on taking advantage of this opportunity. We invite you to visit the Department of Education’s website and sign up for the various pre application webinars providing more information on the grant.

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