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Education Chief Arne Duncan visits a ‘Promise’ land in LA*

Vanessa Romo | March 19, 2014

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to Los Angeles today to shine a light on a White House initiative that takes a holistic approach to helping kids learn.

Duncan joined LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy and a group of teachers, students and leaders of the Youth Policy Institute at a community center in Hollywood. The center is part of the city’s two LA Promise Neighborhoods — Pacoima has the other — which include 19 full-service LA Unified community schools and six community centers, like the one Duncan and Deasy visited.

The Promise Neighborhoods, supported by a $30 million grant from the Obama administration, is one of President Obama’s signature education and poverty initiatives, to “transform schools and communities into vibrant centers of excellence and opportunity.” The idea behind it is to centralize community and educational services in one comprehensive program to serve families, with schools at the center of the agency networks.

They are modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which fosters a “cradle-to-career” continuum of services. In Los Angeles, the centers are run in partnership with LA Unified, providing a wide array of wrap-around services, including job training for parents and teens, after-school tutoring, parenting classes and day care services.

Duncan listened as students and parents, their voices often trembling with emotion, expressed gratitude for the much needed support the centers and schools now provide after years of devastating district and city budget cuts.

“These resources are not a gift,” he told the crowd. “They’re an investment.”

“This is a community where things aren’t necessarily very easy by any stretch of the imagination, but this is an entire community that’s come together behind its young people to create a seamless network of opportunities that I’m convinced can help transform their life chances,” he said during a press conference after the meeting.

With the program still in early stages, Duncan stressed the importance of “tracking data, looking at metrics, being honest with ourselves” to expand the initiative in greater scale.

“We think this community has a chance to do something of national significance,” he told them. “I’m very interested in figuring out what works and how to do more of it.”

The administration plans to expand the program to 20 target areas, from the current five, across the country over the next three years.

Steve Zimmer, the LA Unified board member whose district include the Hollywood center, worked on the project and participated in the event.

“It is important for the Secretary to see what schools and communities can achieve when they collaborate with one another instead of competing against each other,” he said. “In case the Secretary had any doubts, he can now report that the American Dream is alive and well at the corner of Santa Monica and Western. And ultimately, that is what the Promise Neighborhoods program is all about.

*Adds Zimmer quote

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