Marquette Elementary Credit: Photo by Ronnie Wachter

Chicago communities and social service agencies are making a pitch for part of $10 million in federal planning grants for Promise Neighborhoods, the Obama Administration’s initiative to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The 20 planning grant winners will be announced in September. Chicago could conceivably have multiple winners, says department spokeswoman Elizabeth Utrup, since there is no limit on the number of planning grants for each city.

Approximately 340 organizations from around the country filed electronic applications for the planning grants of up to $500,000, according to an initial count by the U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education set strict requirements for applicant organizations. They must focus on serving a needy neighborhood, partner with at least one school in the community, develop a governing board with strong community input, collect and analyze data to evaluate their efforts, and secure additional funding equal to at least 50 percent of its grant.

However, the competition will be stiff for the final grant. The Obama Administration has said it plans to create just one Promise Neighborhood in each of 20 cities, and initially proposed $210 million for the initiative for fiscal year 2011. But a Senate appropriations subcommittee on July 27 gutted that proposal, reducing it by 90 percent to $20 million. Earlier, a House appropriations subcommittee cut funding to $60 million.

Here are snapshots from five communities:

Englewood: Creating community schools

Community schools and social and emotional learning are at the core of Children’s Home + Aid’s proposal, says Michael Shaver, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the agency, the lead organization in Englewood.

The agency wants to bring that strategy to three low-performing elementary schools: Earle, Copernicus and Mays.  All three are feeder schools for Harper High School, one of the district’s turnaround schools.

“Part of our fundamental quest is to build on successes that we’ve seen in our community schools, so that we can expand these kinds of positive results to more schools, children and families,” Shaver says. Community schools provide academic, social and health services for children and families, with the goal of improving children’s school success through better support.

Children’s Home + Aid plans to use Social Solutions, the same information management system used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, to oversee collection of data that will be used to map residents’ needs and the services and strategies that agencies can provide, according to a summary of the grant application.

Should the agency win a full-fledged implementation grant, it hopes to track the progress of every participant, Shaver said.

Roseland: Partnering with a new charter

SGA Youth and Family Services plans to partner with Roseland Prep, a charter school slated to open in fall 2011.

The agency has been working with schools in the Roseland area for many years, says Susanna Marotta, SGA’s president. In addition to offering family and life skills programs for teen parents and programs to help young people steer clear of gangs, SGA also provides after-school programs and counseling in several neighborhood schools.

The Promise Neighborhoods proposal would weave together some of these services. “We want to have a greater impact on individuals and families,” Marotta says. “This would allow us to stronger, more comprehensive cradle-to-career program and to follow the participants through the process.”

Working with a new charter gives SGA the opportunity to create a pipeline of children whose families have taken part in parenting programs that will give them a good foundation for school success, Marotta notes.

Community members are spearheading the development of Roseland Prep, which will use the nationally renowned Mosaica Paragon curriculum that melds classical education with character education.

Logan Square: Building on parent power

Logan Square was one of the first three communities to signal its intent to apply for a Promise Neighborhoods grant as early as February. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s plan was to build on its track record of success with engaging parents and the community in schools.

The final planning proposal focuses on the Monroe Elementary School attendance area, says Joanna Brown, lead education organizer for LSNA. The group plans to do intensive door-to-door surveys and needs assessments.

Among its priorities would be making sure all Monroe families with children 0-5 have access to quality parenting programs and pre-school; focusing on the 8th to 9th grade transition; working to keep freshmen on track to graduate; strengthening a college-going culture in the schools and neighborhoods; and strengthening the transition to college so that students have a better chance of graduating.

“Our plan is built on what we already have,” Brown says, noting LSNA has worked with Monroe for the last 15 years.

Woodlawn: The early years

“We spent a lot of time trying to think about planning early childhood education and care for the Woodlawn neighborhood,” says Charles Payne, a University of Chicago professor and well-regarded educator who was the lead writer on Woodlawn’s proposal.

During its planning year, Woodlawn would work with Chapin Hall to do in-depth needs assessments for early child-care needs. “That will involve interviewing about 300 randomly chosen families and community residents,” Payne said. Once the needs assessments are done, Woodlawn plans to have the Ounce of Prevention Fund design a series of interventions to meet those needs.

The Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community is working with nine public elementary schools in Woodlawn and the University of Chicago’s charter high school. It also has begun discussions to include Hyde Park Academy, the neighborhood high school.

The University of Chicago’s Office of the Provost and Office of Civic Engagement has committed $300,000 in matching funds, Payne said.

Chicago Lawn: Focus on middle schools

“The reason we were really excited about this proposal is that it creates a new opportunity, but it’s an opportunity in the direction we were headed in already,” says David McDowell, lead organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, who worked on the proposal.

That work centers on Elev8, a community middle-school program that involves a holistic approach similar of those of the Harlem Children’s Zone; and the creation of what the Project calls the Safe Zone, a roughly 80-block area where most of the violence in the neighborhood occurs. Safe Zone would address youth violence by creating more alternative activities to engage young people, many involving local churches.

Four high-poverty elementary schools would be the focus of the initiative: Tallman, Eberhardt, Marquette and Morrill. Chapin Hall would evaluate the program.

is web editor at The Chicago Reporter.

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