Hartford Promise Has A Leader

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Richard Sugarman — the founding president of The Connecticut Forum — has been named the first Executive Director of Hartford Promise, which will offer up to $20,000 and non-financial support to its first graduating class in 2016.

“We are extraordinarily fortunate to have Richard Sugarman lead this initiative,” said Dr. Martin Estey — the Executive Director of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education who also served on a panel at PromiseNet 2014. “His proven leadership skills, ability to build collaborations, and knowledge of the community and educational issues are profound. I’m excited to work with him.”

Sugarman’s Connecticut Forum is an award winning non-profit organization that brings nationally known panelists to Hartford four times a year to discuss a variety of timely and important topics. The Forum has also developed outreach programming, including The Connecticut Youth Forum which grew from the response to Focus on Race Relations in 1993.

“Education…providing the highest quality education and opening all the doors of possibility for every child in our community has been a core value and longstanding priority for me,” said Sugarman. “Hartford Promise offers a transformative opportunity to make the dream of higher education a reality for every Hartford student. I’m excited to launch Hartford Promise and work with many others to build it into the significant, sustained promise that all our children deserve.”

The requirements for the scholarship are very similar to New Haven Promise as Hartford scholars will need to be city residents who have been enrolled in the public system for their entire high school career. They will need to carry a minimum 3.0 grade point average and meet district attendance criteria.

“Richard Sugarman’s appointment moves us another step toward our vision of creating a school system where every student is well prepared, both intellectually and financially for college and career success. I’m excited and eager to begin working with him,” said Hartford School Superintendent Beth Narvaez. “The Hartford Promise is a well thought out approach to building student readiness and breaking down barriers that stand in the way of post-secondary education. It will define our district for many years to come. I want to thank the business and non-profit leaders in the city who joined together to support this breakthrough strategy.”

To date, $3.8 million has been pledged to Hartford Promise from contributors and champions including: The Travelers Foundation ($2 million); Hartford Hospital ($1 million); George Weiss-Say Yes to Education Foundation ($500,000); Newman’s Own Foundation ($200,000); and Robert Patricelli, Chairman, President and CEO of Women’s Health USA ($100,000).

Sugarman started the position last week and one of his first days on the job included a visit to New Haven to take in the release of an early progress study by the RAND Corporation.

The Scholars Will Change The City

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On Tuesday in New Haven, Conn., a large collection of the city’s movers and shakers gathered for the release of a study from the RAND Corporation — Transforming an Urban School System — which studied the early progress of education reforms launched in 2010.

RAND’s community briefing — presented by Dr. Gabriella C. Gonzalez — focused on both the broad New Haven School Change initiative as well as the impact of New Haven Promise, which currently funds more than 400 college students across the state of Connecticut.

np-logoThe district-wide findings showed modest gains. Average test scores showed improvement and college-going increased slightly. Dropout rates at the lowest-performing schools showed improvement, as did test scores at those same schools. And overall, RAND summarized, there was an increased college-going culture across the school district.

The results were perhaps exactly what one might expect in just three years of implementation as the work to change the course of an entire city’s school district is a long-term commitment.

But the assembled press gave nearly as much attention to a two-page infographic produced by New Haven Promise as it did the RAND findings.

Instead of focusing on the 22,800 students in the entire district, New Haven Promise focused on those who’d earned the scholarship and the numbers told a far more complete narrative of the power of the Promise. Among those findings:

• New Haven’s public schools suffered five straight years of declining enrollment before Promise was announced. Since the announcement there has been a 10-percent jump in city-wide public school enrollment.

• Eighty percent of the first cohort to earn and accept the Promise Scholarship went to college the fall following their high school graduation. By 2014, the fourth cohort, that matriculation rate jumped to 98 percent.

• Comparing its first two cohorts to its most recent two, New Haven Promise has seen the biggest jump in attainment from minority males. Black and Hispanic males receiving Promise funding has increased by 104 percent, compared to 40 percent for all other recipients.

• More than 40 percent of Promise Scholars are from families with household incomes of less than $30,000 a year. And that group’s current scholars have a higher median grade-point average than those from families with incomes higher than $30,000. (This despite critics calling Promise a “very middle-class approach” at its launch.)

• Fewer than one-third of Promise Scholars posted a semester GPA of 3.0 in the first three semesters of the initiative. In each of the last two semesters the percentage has reached 45 percent. If the usual “spring bump” happens this current semester, around half of the 400+ scholars will top 3.0.

• The combination of Promise and PELL has deeply impacted the entire city with 12 of the 30 wards receiving at least $200,000 for their students in four years. Each ward represents slightly more than 4,000 individuals.

The combination of funding, informing, networking, data collecting and analysis at the next level is the most sure-fire way to change the educational outcomes for a city. New Haven has discovered that.

Finishing Big More Important Than Starting Big

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Here at Cities of Promise not a week goes by without an inquiry a week from somewhere new. Someone reaching out to better understand what it takes to start a Promise program. And the first concern is always, how can we pay for it?

While it is great to have a fabulously wealthy individual, organization or company bestow a huge amount of seed money for a Promise program, it is hardly a requirement.

It is possible to gather a relatively small amount and partner with a college and company to leverage more benefit. And then build a structure for students to take advantage of the funds available through PELL grants and local scholarships to make college affordable. If a pilot program can be created, it could be the first step toward bigger donors, bigger dollars and bigger impact.

That’s the initial vision of the folks in Richmond, Va., who attended PromiseNet 2014 in New Haven, Conn. It will start with Future Centers in city schools to serve as an “on-ramp” for a larger goal of a Promise program. Starting with forms and financial literacy, RVA Future hopes to make tuition scholarships to community college available in 2017.

“We need to say to students and families: ‘This path is real. It’s available. And it’s available for you. Not for someone else. For you.’ They have to believe that. Once they believe that, it creates a demand for improvement at all levels,” said Dr. Thad Williamson, director of the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building.

Tina Griego of Richmond’s Style Weekly, an alternative news source, hit the nail on its economic head when she wrote, “[RVA Future] will depend upon Richmond’s white economic power structure — its donor class — to build the scholarship fund, acting upon what it knows to be true: Richmond cannot continue to hemorrhage middle-class families as soon as the middle-school years hit and expect to reach to its full economic potential.”

If cities fail to adapt to changing demographics, they could simply be doomed. The Greensboro, N.C., community is recognizing that and isn’t waiting to start small. Officials have raised $9 million already this year to gain the support and resources of Say Yes To Education, which has Promise initiatives in Syracuse and Buffalo.

Back in Richmond — where six Fortune 500 companies are headquartered — school board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed, who has been helping to shape city’s educational future for about a year, said, “We need partners and, I’m going to be candid, we need to decide as a community whether we are going to support public education in this city or not. Are we going to put our money where our mouths are? This is a bridge we are building between the city and the school district.”

After all, their futures rely on one another.

We’re Talkin’ About A Revolution

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Your past does not have to be your future. That is just as true for a school as it is for a person and Rainier Beach High in South Seattle, Wash., is proof.

The Beach had been considered the worst high school in the city with a legacy of gang activities, high dropout rates and below-standard academics. “When I was a freshman, I would have cleaned sewers rather than come here,” senior Hussein Abshir told Seattle Times’ Claudia Rowe.

But three years ago school administrators took a gamble, applying to become an International Baccalaureate World School, which Rowe described as “a place where college-bound students take a rigorous slate of advanced courses and test their performance against some of the most privileged young people on Earth.”

The application was not only a success — the results have sent forth reverberations for other places grasping for a solution. Since 2011, the Beach has had a 25-point increase in its graduation rate and has left the district’s average in its wake. Last year 79 percent of the seniors earned a diploma, more five points higher than the rest of the city. Next year’s enrollment will be the highest for the school in a decade.

“It was really a shock, going from this laid-back place into a real academic school,” said 17-year-old Tavares Tagaleo’o. “I was hesitant at first, kind of intimidated. But IB is the reason why I come every day. I don’t honestly think I’d still be in school if it wasn’t for IB and how it challenged me.”

And the academic support doesn’t stop at the graduation ceremony as graduating seniors can now take advantage of a free year of college at the South Seattle Community College as part of the 13th Year Promise Scholarship Program. That program — a last-dollar-in scholarship which requires students to apply for federal aid — will ensure that Beach grads have no tuition or fees as a freshman.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our kids,” Rainier Beach Principal Dwane Chappelle said in 2013, when the program expanded to his school. “I think this is going to be a huge motivation for our students. I think this program will definitely change lives.”

The 13th Year Promise is one of two Promise programs in the shadow of the Space Needle. The Seattle Promise was launched in 2014 by the Seattle Central Foundation for needy students — adults included — interested in attending Seattle Central College.