HUDSON–The Hudson City School District and Catholic Charities of Columbia & Greene Counties held a breakfast at St. Mary’s Academy last Saturday to introduce community residents to the $400,000 Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood planning project. The organizations hope to involve as many people as possible from the school district in seeking a grant that would help improve academic achievement in the poorest parts of the district.
Hudson was one of 15 school districts nationwide to win a grant over 200 organizational applicants. Catholic Charities is the lead agency on the application for the grant, which came from the United States Department of Education. The district is collaborating with Catholic Charities, in part, because of its ability to manage large grants.
“The goal of Promise Neighborhoods is to provide the resources and support young people need to succeed while transforming distressed neighborhoods into communities of opportunity,” Melody Barnes, domestic policy advisor to President Obama, said in a press release about the awards. The grant is meant to enable the community “to address significant challenges faced by students and families living in high-poverty communities by providing resources to plan and implement a continuum of services from early learning to college and career… by improving a neighborhood’s health, safety, and stability [and] by expanding access to learning technology and Internet connectivity, and boosting family engagement in student learning.”
“A group of local organizations worked for an entire year together to make this happen,” Hudson Assistant Superintendent Maria Suttmeier said Saturday. Seeds of inspiration for the project were sowed when a group of Hudson educators and youth workers attended a meeting in the fall of 2009 in New York City sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education to showcase the successes of the Harlem Children’s Zones program.
Ms. Suttmeier credited Cathy Clarke, who heads up the district’s After School Program, for getting the ball rolling by connecting the district with grant writer Candace La Roue. Ms. La Roue stressed the need to reach out to political leaders and local social service agencies.
The next job is to devise a plan that will help the district qualify for a $6-million implementation grant. That will require figuring out what the 3000 kids in the greater Hudson community need to succeed over a period that stretches from cradle to career.
Five working groups that will meet monthly to explore possibilities for improving children’s lives in the areas of: supporting parents, early learning, arts and humanities, transition to adulthood and community wellness. They will come up with ideas to better prepare all children for learning before they enter school intellectually, psychologically, physically, and nutritionally. These groups will include experts and average citizens, and each group is still seeking more participants. A Youth Advisory Group of high school student volunteers will explore what teens think is needed to improve academic outcomes for all students.
At St. Mary’s Academy Saturday, people were asked to write their ideas on large sheets of paper
attached to the wall. When the meeting was over, the papers were full of suggestions, like more minority teachers, more participation in the arts, more parent participation in schools, transportation to take students to regional events, learning opportunities after school, on weekends and during vacations. There were suggestions for computers, more attention to American history, more cross generational programs, more jobs and homes in Hudson, as well as calls for an end to discrimination and greater safety on the way to and from school.
A survey will be done in the community with the results professionally analyzed.
Ms. Suttmeier and Theresa Lux, executive director of Catholic Charities of Columbia & Greene Counties traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with Department of Education officials and other grant recipients. Ms. Suttmeier said after the conference that the event was “very demanding,” adding, “We’re talking about a shift in our practices.” Discussion touched on school reform and the need for a clear vision, commitment and tenacity in order to have a sustainable result, she said.
“We welcome participation from teachers, engaging parents, residents, taxpayers and teachers, even our teachers who don’t live in the community,” said Ms. Suttmeier.
“Hudson is special and unique,” Ms. Lux said by phone this week from Washington. “But the school is in need. Low test scores are not acceptable. Great things are happening in the city of Hudson and in the school district but their scores aren’t showing that progress.”
Successful use of the planning grant will position the district to apply for implementation grants of up to $30 million over five years. Implementation grant winners will also be eligible for funding from the Department of Justice to support and expand public safety.
The Promise Neighborhoods program is part of the Obama administration’s plan to reverse the growing income gap by coordinating federal housing, education, justice, and health programs to achieve the goal of transforming poor neighborhoods into neighborhoods of opportunity.
“A lot depends on how well we plan,” said Joanie Hunt, is the community coordinator for the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood.