The people involved with the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood initiative held a meeting last night to update the community on project's mission and progress. The Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood received a $413,000 planning grant in December 2011, but, as project manager Joan Hunt explained, "the project took longer than expected to get off the ground," and as a consequence, it is currently three months behind schedule. She said they had applied for an extension to complete the needs assessment, the end result of which would be a set of proposed solutions. But even though the solutions will not be ready to present to the community for review and comment for another few months, the panel members--Sophie Becker, Tiffany Garriga, and Kamal Johnson--mentioned some programs that could be implemented in the effort to create a "culture of success'--a school district and a community where there is the expectation that all kids will succeed in school and in careers.
The model for the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood is the Harlem Children's Zone, a program in New York City created by Geoffrey Canada and celebrated by presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. HCZ's motto is "Doing whatever it takes to educate children and strengthen the community," and this statement and variations of it were repeated by panel members throughout the presentation as they talked about ways to create a "cradle to career pipeline" to encourage and support kids' academic achievement.
One HCZ program mentioned as something that might be implemented in Hudson is "Baby College," a program of prenatal and parenting support. Another program mentioned was the "Peacemaker" program, which involves bringing AmeriCorps volunteers into the schools and and helping HCSD youth become AmeriCorps volunteers. The Peacemakers program was mentioned as a way to address two problems that were identified as existing in the Hudson City School District: the teachers in the classrooms don't look like the students (that is, the percentage of students of color is not reflected in faculty and administration); the number of suspensions and expulsions. Speaking of the latter, Dan Udell, who with his wife, Mary, runs an after-school video program at Hudson High School, made the point that HCSD "uses suspensions to punish kids with nothing positive to bring them back." Hunt later shared the statistic that only 3 percent of all suspensions, in school districts across the country, are for violence or drug-related activity. The rest are the consequence of student behaviors judged to be unacceptable in a school setting. "How do teachers react to student behaviors?" she asked rhetorically. "What are the long-term consequences [of their reactions]?"
Responding to a question from Linda Mussmann, co-director of Time & Space Limited, Hunt clarified that Catholic Charities of Columbia & Greene Counties was the lead agency in the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood project. HCSD was a key partner, but the school district did not receive any of the funds. When asked "how much of a voice" the school district had in the solutions, Hunt said, "They need to be on board with the solutions proposed."
Hunt explained that only fifteen communities throughout the United States had received Promise Neighborhood planning grants in 2011, and the competition for implementation grants, which is the next step, is even greater. Implementation grants are for "millions of dollars": $5 million a year for three to five years. Last year, only five communities were awarded implementation grants; the year before, only seven grants were awarded. One of the communities that received an implementation grant in 2011 was Buffalo.
When asked what would happen if the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood didn't get an implementation grant, Hunt took the "no excuses for failure" attitude and said there was interest in making this happen from foundations and other funding sources, and the project would be implemented on some scale.