O'Connell High
Rear of John O'Connell High Photo by Kathleen Narruhn

A community-based education program called Mission Promise Neighborhood plans to double in scope while operating on half the federal funds. But its directors still consider themselves lucky because, unlike related programs nationwide, it didn’t lose its funding altogether.  

The program – which provides resources to students and their parents to help ensure students make it college – will be reinfused with $6 million in federal dollars to continue its work in the neighborhood for the next two years. This comes after an establishing $30 million/five-year grant awarded in 2012. Mission Promise Neighborhood was one of only three programs to receive any money this cycle, out of 12 applicants that had previously won the grants.

Despite the sharp reduction, the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), which runs the program, plans to bring its mental health services, college counseling, and after-school programs into five more schools, up from the current total of four.

“We’re in a position where we’ve learned a lot from the last six years,” said Richard Raya, the director of the program. “We’ve learned how to do more with less.”

The Mission won its “Promise Neighborhood” grant this funding cycle along with Chula Vista, California, and Indianola, Mississippi. Nine other municipalities did not have their grants renewed. 

“Other promise neighborhoods are faced with the uncomfortable reality of having to scale down services and lay off staff,” Raya said. “I’m thankful we didn’t have to do that.”

MEDA only in May discovered that the extensions were an option. It had begun to explore other funding options in January as its grant dollars were exhausted and the program was operating on the reserves it had accumulated over the last five years.

“At the beginning of the year, we didn’t know if this funding would be in the federal budget,” Raya said, noting that MEDA was in touch with the research institute PolicyLink, which had a Promise Neighborhoods lobbyist in Washington D.C. “We started calling them to get the word across to our federal representatives.”

In addition to providing services at Bryant and Cesar Chavez elementary schools, Everett Middle School, and John O’Connell High School, Mission Promise Neighborhood will now be present at James Lick Middle School, Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8, Flynn Elementary, Sanchez Elementary and Mission High School.

Expanding to five new schools with fewer dollars, he claimed, was feasible. He said this was because MEDA no longer pays a large portion of the funds to the San Francisco Unified School District, which staffed the schools with coordinators that connected students and parents with services. Now, Raya says, the city itself pays for those roles by way of San Francisco’s Beacon Initiative, which also provides extra services for students and their families.

In the last five years, the program has been successful at the four schools where it provides social workers, medical care, after-school programs, and mentoring. The program cites its “cradle to college” approach – meaning, it starts offering services and education to parents with newborns, and follows the child until it’s time to apply for college.

The results are encouraging.

At John O’Connell, for example, the graduation rates for Latino students increased from 62 percent to 82 percent between 2012 to 2016, and that of African Americans increased from 46 percent to 93 percent in the same period, according to data from the San Francisco Unified School District. The school’s overall graduation rate has increased from 68 percent to 86 percent.

“I have great confidence that this Promise Extension Grant will boost educational opportunity for all disadvantaged students living in the Mission, helping them to thrive and succeed,” said Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said in a statement announcing the grant.

Raya acknowledged the money will dry up in the next two years, and it’s far from certain another grant from the federal government will be available.

“For sure we will go after federal funding again,” he said. “But I think the long-term vision is for our city and our state see the value (in the program), and that this become a normal way of doing business. That is good government.”

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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