The Buffalo News

A local collaborative led by M&T Bank has been awarded $500,000 from the federal government to help build a "Buffalo Promise Neighborhood" to provide a network of support services to children living in one of the city's poorest areas.

The Westminster Foundation was one of 21 successful applicants nationwide out of more than 300, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Tuesday.
"This is about communities where educational outcomes haven't been what any of us want," he told reporters at a news conference in Washington, D.C. "We want everybody rallying together to create healthy communities so children can be successful."

The program is intended to help communities replicate the collaborative work done in the Harlem Children's Zone.

There, a 97-block area provides children and families a spectrum of "cradle to career" services, including parenting workshops, preschool programs, charter schools, asthma workshops and child obesity programs. Geoffrey Canada, the president of the Harlem Children's Zone, has become one of the most recognized names in education reform.

The planning grants announced Tuesday are the first step toward replicating the Harlem Children's Zone. President Obama has requested $200 million to award implementation grants of up to $20 million next year. Winning a planning grant this year does not guarantee that a group will win an implementation grant next year, Duncan said.

In Buffalo, the $500,000 from the federal government was supplemented by $150,000 from M&T Bank and $100,000 from the John R. Oishei Foundation.

The Westminster Foundation will spend the next year laying detailed plans to create a Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, which would build off the efforts of Westminster Community Charter School at 24 Westminster Ave. Seventeen years ago, M&T Bank adopted the school when it was part still of the Buffalo School District.

Since then, the school, now a charter, has become one of the top-performing elementary schools in the city, despite being among the poorest, with nine out of 10 students receiving free or reduced lunches.

The Buffalo Promise Neighborhood will focus on a one-square-mile area around Westminster, near Bailey and Kensington avenues on the East Side. Partnerships between the public and private sectors, similar to the one that helped turn Westminster around, would be instituted at Highgate Heights Elementary School and Bennett High School, two struggling public schools in that area.
Once the program is firmly established in that neighborhood, plans call for replicating it on the West Side.
Group collaborations are a cornerstone of the Promise Neighborhood program and were essential to successful grant applicants.

In Buffalo, the partners involved in the Westminster Foundation include Westminster Community Charter School, M&T Bank, the John R. Oishei Foundation, Read to Succeed Buffalo, the City of Buffalo, Buffalo Public Schools, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, Catholic Charities, Buffalo Urban League and the University at Buffalo.