A $30 million Promise Neighborhood grant to serve Perry County in eastern Kentucky has been awarded to Partners for Education at Berea College. The five-year grant will provide children and youth in the community with comprehensive services and school supports and is aimed at improving outcomes for all students and their families.
Project Director Michael Hughes, a lifelong Perry County resident, has spent much of his career as a teacher and administrator. Hughes said, “We can have a positive long-term impact on the children in the community because the seed money from this five-year grant will be teamed with the long-term work of the local businesses and organizations who are our partners.”
Partners for Education Executive Director Dreama Gentry has been a driving force in bringing additional educational opportunities and resources to eastern Kentucky. Using a community based, evidence driven approach, the organization leverages more than $40 million each year to support improved educational outcomes for children.
“We are thrilled to bring our Promise Neighborhood model to Perry County and to have the opportunity to partner with so many people in the community,” said Gentry. Using local leadership and community insight to identify and strengthen existing resources is central to the Partners for Education model. The program work begins with a six-month planning period to solicit additional community input and direction.
Using a community based approach is particularly important for the project director. “I look forward to working with the school districts and all of the community organizations who desire to improve living conditions for all children in Hazard and Perry County,” said Hughes.
Perry County Schools Superintendent Jonathan Jett has high hopes for the initiative. “I am very thankful for the Perry Promise Neighborhood Grant. This is an opportunity for many agencies to work together in order to provide services for students and families throughout our county,” he said.
Partners for Education took the first step toward the Perry Promise Neighborhood in 2012 by establishing an office in Perry County to support current programs including a GEAR UP college access and success partnership, a Performance Partnership Pilot that serves disconnected youth and a PartnerCorps program that places 20 AmeriCorps volunteers at Perry Central High School.
In February 2017, the process for developing the grant proposal began with a group of key partners from the area who are committed to improving educational outcomes for all youth within Perry County. Led by Gentry, these partners developed the Perry Promise Neighborhood pipeline of services and secured commitments for $3 million dollars, both direct and in-kind dollars, to support the Promise Neighborhood initiative. To ensure community voice in the project, an advisory board was established to provide guidance to Perry Promise Neighborhood. The advisory board includes representatives of all partnering organizations and school systems along with community members, parents and youth.
The Partners for Education’s experience and outreach extends beyond Perry County and includes 54 Eastern Kentucky counties. In fact, the Perry Promise Neighborhood is the college’s third Promise Neighborhood grant. In January of 2017, funding was received for a similar grant in Knox County, and, in 2011, Berea College was awarded a Promise Neighborhood implementation grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement a continuum of services, cradle to career, in Clay, Jackson and Owsley counties. This was the nation’s first rural Promise Neighborhood and brought measurable results to the Promise Neighborhood counties.
Over the course of the original Promise Neighborhood grant, school readiness and proficiency rates climbed. In the 2012-13 school year, the project’s baseline year, only 16.3% of kindergartners within the Promise Neighborhood entered school ready to learn. The most recent report from the 2016-2017 school years shows 35.5% of kindergartners entered school ready to learn. In 2012, 37.1% of assessed students were at or above proficiency in English or language arts. In the most recent assessments from the 2015-16 school year, the rate improved to 49.5% of students meeting this indicator. In 2012, 27.1% of Berea Promise Neighborhood students assessed in math achieved proficiency or above. During the 2015-16 school year, 39.5% of students had achieved at this level.
Partners for Education at Berea College grew out of the College’s Eighth Great Commitment: “to engage Appalachian communities, families, and students in partnership for mutual learning, growth, and service.” Berea College offers a high-quality education to bright and talented students who have limited economic resources. Partners for Education at Berea College uses a place based, student focused approach to improve educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky. By braiding services and aligning federal, state and private funding streams Partners for Education works to ensure all Appalachian students succeed at school.