Promise Neighborhoods Convene to Share and Learn

I was truly inspired by the peer–to-peer learning that quickly developed into the pervasive spirit of this year’s Promise Neighborhoods Directors Meeting. Our annual convening on June 13-14 brought together more than 250 administrators, evaluators, and practitioners to strengthen relationships, forge new ties, and expand our knowledge of how to truly construct a cradle-to-career promise in our communities. Peers shared tips on how to effectively administer the program, apply solutions to nagging community challenges, and effectively use their data to drive results.

The meeting opened with a warm introduction from Anna Hinton, director of Parental Options and Information here at the Department of Education. Anna gave an overview of the portfolio and highlighted some of the critical issues facing Promise Neighborhoods that peers would tackle together throughout the conference. Anna was then joined by Michael McAfee, senior director at the Promise Neighborhoods Institute (PNI). Michael touched on the role of PNI in assisting the grantees with reporting on data outcomes and PNI’s role in supporting the grantees’ solutions in the field.

The use of data and the reporting of outcomes was a common element throughout the meeting as grantees worked together during the conference to drill down on their data challenges. The opening plenary featured two partners of Diplomas Now to focus on just this issue: Charles Hiteshew, CEO of Talent Development, and Gary Chapman, executive vice president of Communities in Schools. In tandem, they presented the Diplomas Now i3 model for using data to drive results for school turnaround that ourgrantees could potentially replicate. The model was particularly helpful to Promise grantees because it includes plans forLeft to right: Charles Hiteshew of Talent Development, Mike Hayes of Communities and Schools, and Jeff Jablow of City Year converse with Promise Neighborhoods grantees.teacher training and case management for students driven by real-time school data. As explained in a recent OII home page article, the Diplomas Now infrastructure also combines the “near-peer” approach of City Year with Talent Development and Communities in Schools to deliver a strategically assembled set of interventions. Click here to view the Diplomas Now presentation

These same presenters plus a senior member of City Year presented during the morning breakout sessions. The four breakout sessions allowed members of grantee teams to divide and conquer select issues facing their communities in peer-to-peer facilitated discussion and presentations by area experts. These sessions’ topics included grant administration, data collection, school turnaround, and the results framework for planning grantees.

The afternoon sessions started with presentations from the Urban Institute and then the Government Accounting Office’s (GAO) review of the Promise Neighborhood program. I was encouraged to watch as grantees engaged vigorously in conversation with both presentations to learn what progress the Urban Institute had discovered in Promise Neighborhoods’ current work, and to understand how a review would be conducted by the GAO. The remaining afternoon flew by in a second round of peer-oriented breakouts similar to the morning and a discussion with the Institute for Education Sciences regarding potential frameworks for a program evaluation.

The second day of the meeting progressed faster than the first day, as grantees forged bonds with their fellow Promise Neighborhoods peers by exploring six themes: using data for learning and accountability, integrating community schools into cradle-to-career continuums, leveraging resources for implementation and sustainability, forging partnerships for collective impact, and building a pipeline and continuum of solutions. All of these sessions included peer-to-peer discussions with problem solving and sharing of best practices.

As the meeting came to a close, Bill Shepardson of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, who served as the overall moderator, commented on the depth and range of discussions. “This meeting gives us a solid start for a community of practice,” he told the attendees. “We all have a lot to learn and a lot to share with one another.”

Elson Nash is the team lead for the Promise Neighborhoods and Full-Service Community Schools programs in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.