ROCKLAND, Maine — Many Flags/One Community, a regional education initiative in Midcoast Maine, and Penquis, a Community Action Agency serving Knox County, recently marked the beginning of their Promise Neighborhoods planning grant by calling together over 40 leaders in education, health care, workforce and economic development, and youth and social services. Also in attendance were: Dana Connors, President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Former State Senator Chris Rector, representing Senator Angus King, and Bobby Reynolds, representing Senator Susan Collins.
In late December 2012, Penquis and Many Flags/One Community were awarded a $348,100 Promise Neighborhoods planning grant by the U.S. Department of Education. It is the vision for the Promise Neighborhoods grant program that all children and youth growing up in a Promise Neighborhood have access to great schools, community supports and strong families. The goal of the program is to improve the developmental and educational outcomes of children and youth in the most distressed communities.
The standardized testing data available indicated that both Georges Valley High School and Rockland District High School struggled with student assessment scores that were below state targets. Additionally, the greater Rockland area has high rates of unemployment and families living in poverty. Together, these factors demonstrated a need for a Promise Neighborhood with strong “cradle to career” support systems in the greater Rockland area.
While the efforts of the Promise Neighborhoods planning grant are specific to the towns comprising RSU 13, Cushing, Owls Head, Rockland, St. George, South Thomaston and Thomaston, the work of the Promise Neighborhoods grant can provide valuable information and best practices that will have rippling effects well beyond the RSU 13 school district.
Loren Andrews, Chair of Many Flags, opened the meeting, sharing that this grant is an “opportunity of a life time” and recognized the hard work done by the local policy makers, the school districts and members of Many Flags/One Community who paved the way for this opportunity. He stated that “failure is not an option” and emphasized the necessity of a collaborative commitment to doing “whatever it takes” to help students achieve their highest potential.
Also speaking was Shannon Bonsey, Chief Operating Officer for Penquis. “Penquis is very committed to the educational and economic development of Knox County,” said Bonsey. “This opportunity helps us assure that the needs of disadvantaged families and youth are represented, and our expertise engaging parents and supporting families, particularly families with infants and pre-school aged children, will help assure success.”
Alan Hinsey, Executive Director of the Many Flags Foundation, explained the model of Many Flags/One Community and described how Promise Neighborhoods will enhance the work of Many Flags by including the developmental milestones of early child development (birth to pre-school and grades K-4).
“A missing piece in the Many Flags model has been our ability to comprehensively identify early childhood factors that are negatively impacting our ability to produce a highly skilled adult workforce and young adults who are fully career and college ready. We know that fourth grade reading proficiency is a key factor for future success in school and in the workforce,” stated Hinsey. “But even prior to that, we know that early brain development in the birth to 3 year period is an essential indicator of all future outcomes. The research that the Promise Neighborhood grant provides will help us target our efforts and resources on those and other critical issues in our region.”
Lew Collins, Superintendent of Schools, RSU13, concluded the morning session by expressing the need for stronger family supports and parent involvement. “We have excellent educators, but if the child can’t get to school, we can’t teach. Parent education and family supports on a very practical level are essential to a child’s success in school.”
The afternoon session convened with a presentation by Jean Bridges, Penquis Project Director, and Pinny Beebe-Center, Penquis Project Manager, describing the expected outcomes of the planning grant. With the help of a consultant and the work groups, base line data will be collected on the community’s comprehensive needs. This will assure a clear understanding of the current barriers and influences negatively impacting developmental and educational outcomes in the region. The work groups will then develop strategies and solutions to address the issues.
The final outcome of the yearlong planning grant will be an application for a Promise Neighborhoods Implementation grant. The Implementation grant could be as much as six million dollars which would be dedicated to creating a complete continuum of cradle to career solutions with an emphasis on strong families, comprehensive community support services and extraordinary schools.