St. Paul won a $500,000 federal grant Tuesday to create a long-term plan to inundate a 250-block area of the city with educational, social, medical and municipal services.
The aim is to give kids in the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods the resources and support to be successful from "cradle to career."
To do that, the city, school district, Ramsey County, and numerous nonprofits and foundations have banded together to figure out a strategy with neighborhood residents. The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation is leading the effort.
The federal money comes from the "Promise Neighborhood" initiative, which gave $10 million to 21 organizations for one-year planning grants. About 340 groups nationwide applied. St. Paul is the only Minnesota city to receive a grant, awarded by the Department of Education, and had the fourth-highest ranked application.
"We have to, from the administration's standpoint, take community ownership of education, and ultimately that's what the promise neighborhood is about," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. "This is a big deal."
Local foundations have contributed $175,000 in grants to match government in-kind donations. In total, about $750,000 will go toward the effort.
President Obama weighed in on Tuesday, saying in a statement that the recipients "are galvanizing their communities to help offer our children a pathway out of poverty."
His proposed 2011 budget includes $200 million for grants to put the plans into action. St. Paul will pursue that money.
Promise neighborhoods are based on the success of the acclaimed Harlem Children's Zone, a 97-block area in New York City where the goal is to support families and children from birth. The guiding principle: Children do well when families do well, and for that to happen a multitude of community resources must be made available.
The focus in St. Paul will be on Jackson and Maxfield elementary schools and the 22,000 residents surrounding them. The 250-block area is one of the poorest in St. Paul.
According to the federal grant application:
• Almost 40 percent of residents are younger than 18.
• About one-third of residents live below the federal poverty income limit, which is $22,050 for a family of four.
• Eighty-two percent of students are eligible for free lunch at school, a leading indicator of poverty.
The state considers Jackson a low-performing elementary school, and Maxfield is among the 32 lowest-performing of the state's 2,600 public schools. Test results from the 2008-09 school year showed only 30 percent of Maxfield students proficient in reading and 24 percent proficient in math.
A number of social and educational programs are already at work, but leaders want to weave them together in a better way to narrow the achievement gap, improve neighborhoods and create an expectation of higher education.
Community advisory groups are being formed. Planners are expected to figure out what the area's needs are and work with residents and project partners to figure out how best to provide them. Resources could range from health services in the schools to job placement and nutrition programs in the neighborhoods.
The ultimate goal is to find a system that works and expand it to other areas of the city.
Receiving the grant is a testament to how well the various partners have worked together, said MayKao Hang, Wilder president and CEO. "We thought it was a long shot, but we also thought we had the right ingredients," she said.
Chris Havens • 612-673-4148