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A grant to create community schools makes strange bedfellows

The last time he led a New York City project, Geoffrey Canada, the founder of Harlem Children’s Zone, had the teachers union as his opponent. Now the two are partnering on a grant proposal that would take struggling elementary schools and surround them with the support services that barely exist outside their doors.

Naturally, the two have a buffer: Good Shepherd Services and the Children’s Aid Society, which is the lead applicant for an Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) grant — money that was set aside as part of the federal stimulus package. The grant proposal calls for $30 million to be used over four years to reduce absenteeism in nine schools in low-income neighborhoods like Harlem, the South Bronx, and Central Brooklyn.

All of the schools that are eventually chosen for the grant will have low-performing students, but they must also have a large number of students who don’t attend class. At least 30 percent of their students must be chronically absent, meaning they miss a month or more of school, hence the grant’s name: “Attend, Achieve, Attain,” or “a3.”

The idea is to keep more children in school for longer by lengthening the school day, adding after-school and summer programs, and turning the school into a community center and medical clinic their parents will want to come to as well.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the group is currently vetting six schools and will pick three to begin working with next year once it’s clear whether they’ve won the funding.

Mulgrew said the plan to create more community schools in New York began long before the stimulus bill and the i3 grant, with a report the New School published on chronic absenteeism. After talking with Children’s Aid, Mulgrew met with Canada and the two agreed to partner.

“We were going to go to outside funders,” Mulgrew said. “We always had the idea that this group could attract a mix of funders.”

The group’s political diversity is likely to be attractive to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, but it’s not a perfect partnership.

A spokesman for the city’s Department of Education said they intend to sign on as a grant supporter, but that didn’t stop Mulgrew from suggesting the DOE was less than sincere.

“The chancellor talks about the obstacles that children who live in poverty face as being excuses,” Mulgrew said. “There is just a philosophical difference between us and them. We say children can perform as long as they recognize that they have additional obstacles.”

The DOE and the UFT plan to submit their own i3 grant proposals this month.

UFT to join with Harlem Children’s Zone, Children’s Aid Society, Good Shepherd Services in seeking federal funding to reduce chronic absenteeism

Program would provide medical and family assistance, along with afterschool instruction in schools open until 6 pm

The Harlem Children’s Zone, Children’s Aid Society and Good Shepherd Services will join with the United Federation of Teachers in seeking a $30 million federal grant for a program to reduce chronic student absenteeism at nine schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

The “community schools program,” to be announced Saturday at the UFT’s annual Spring Conference, could include medical, dental and vision services on site, along with a wide range of family and social services, from GED and English as a Second Language classes to financial planning, legal assistance for eviction and other emergencies.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “We need to create schools as places for families, not just children. Many of our kids struggle with a huge range of medical and social issues, and our schools should be where families turn for help with all the problems that might affect their children’s academic performance.”

Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, said, “I deeply believe that we must all work together to improve NYC’s students chances of graduating high school and continuing their post secondary education. I’m pleased to be working with this team, the UFT, The Children’s Aid Society and Good Shepherd Services to accomplish this mission.”

Richard Buery, President and CEO of The Children’s Aid Society, said, “The Children’s Aid Society is excited to submit an application for the i3 federal grant with our diverse group of partners. The grant will address two issues we’re all so concerned about: chronic early absence and improving student achievement. When schools are transformed into community schools, the combination of integrated student supports and high-quality, professional development will turn schools around, improve student outcomes and validate the benefits of a model that can be replicated across New York City and throughout the country.”

Sr. Paulette LoMonaco, Executive Director of Good Shepherd Services, said, “Good Shepherd Services is thrilled to join in this critically important effort to demonstrate the effectiveness of the community schools strategy in turning around struggling schools, reducing early chronic absenteeism, improving student achievement and ensuring that vulnerable children, and their families, have access to the full-range of preventive, intervention and enrichment opportunities that are critical to their educational and developmental success.”

One in five elementary school children missed a month of more of the 2007-2008 school year, a chronic absenteeism rate that is clustered in the lowest-achieving schools and districts in New York City. The goal of the collaboration is to increase student achievement in the targeted schools by significantly increasing attendance rates, particularly in the early grades.

Under the proposal, the schools selected for the program would be eligible for federal Title 1 funds, have a chronic absenteeism rate for more than 30 percent, and would be in the bottom third of all city schools in terms of math and reading performance. Three schools would be selected for the first year of the program, and six more would begin in the program’s second year. Total funding would amount to $30 million from USDOE Investing in Innovation (i3) grants.

Harlem Children’s Zone is a non-profit organization that has created a comprehensive network of education, social-service and community-building programs within 97 blocks in Central Harlem. HCZ works to break the cycle of generational poverty by supporting children from birth through college and working to strengthen the families and communities around those children.

The Children’s Aid Society is an independent, not-for-profit organization established to serve the children of New York City. Founded in 1853, it is one of the nation’s largest and most innovative non-sectarian agencies, serving New York’s neediest children in community schools, neighborhood centers, health clinics and camps.

Founded in 1857, Good Shepherd Services is a leading youth development and family service agency that serves over 23,000 program participants a year. It provides comprehensive, integrated community- and school-based preventive and intervention programs which focus on positive family and youth development, including foster care and foster care prevention programs.

The agencies taking part will form a local advisory council whose membership will also include the Coalition for Educational Justice and the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School.

Final proposals must be submitted to the federal authorities on May 11; the collaboration’s goal is to start the program this fall.

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