The federal Department of Education announced recently that the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) will receive a $500,000 grant that allows it to compete for as much as $24 million over four years for a project that will ultimately be carried out at local public schools.

If funded, MEDA’s “Cradle to Career” proposal would be implemented at Everett Middle School, O’Connell High School, Cesar Chavez Elementary School and Bryant Elementary School. All are considered underperforming schools and recently received a School Improvement Grant that averages $1.6 million a year for three years.

The cradle-to-career approach is MEDA’s idea to track students from kindergarten through college and assist them by integrating services from nonprofits, including those that offer health services, financial literacy education and English language learning.

“With the planning grant money, this will help us figure out the most effective way of tracking students, to ensure they become successful,” said Luis Granados, MEDA’s executive director. The $500,000 will be spent on researchers, community focus groups, grant writers, facilitators, data organizers and meeting coordinators, he said.

If the Department of Education selects MEDA’s planning proposal, the organization will get $3-$6 million per year for up to four years.

“We are trying to be optimistic that we will get the money to implement our Promise Neighborhoods program,” said Jillian Spindle, director of development for MEDA and the lead writer of the proposal that won the $500,000 grant.

In addition to competing against earlier applicants who are trying for a second time, MEDA will be competing against 14 groups that received planning grants in this cycle.

Of the 234 applications submitted last summer, only five implementation grants and 15 planning grants were awarded. Those receiving the latter included California State University, East Bay (Hayward), the Westminster Foundation (Buffalo, NY) and Black Family Development (Detroit, Mich.). MEDA was the only San Francisco winner.

Determined to get a piece of the pie, Spindle said that MEDA is trying to finish its application by June to make sure it has a competitive proposal ready before the (unannounced) summer deadline.

“We have an assembled team of partners and organizations across the city to make sure we develop the most comprehensive plan for our proposal,” she said.

MEDA’s team includes the director of Family and Community Engagement of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), the chair of UC Berkeley’s Center of Latino Policy Research, the superintendent of SFUSD (Mission Zone) and other San Francisco city agencies.

MEDA is not putting all its marbles in one bag, Spindle said. The group is already looking into other forms of funding, from the city, private investors and fundraisers, in case it does not get the grant.

“We will find ways to do it with or without the grant,” she said, but is still knocking on wood in hopes of getting the implementation grant.

“We are optimistic” she said.

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