Promise Neighborhood continues despite litigation

The Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative, or MPN, has been in the spotlight since former Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier sought a lawsuit to cancel the Bibb County school system’s lease of the old Ballard-Hudson Middle School building in December of 2012.
The initiative got even more attention in late January when Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen called for a federal probe of the school system, investigating its dealings with the MPN, as several school board members said they did not understand the full financial commitment the school system made to the Promise Neighborhood.
The school system, one of many partners within MPN, appropriated funds to renovate the Ballard-Hudson building, in order to create a Macon Promise Center, where a variety of programs funded by the initiative could be held.
Macon Promise Center could complement MPN’s initial aim to focus on “strengthening educational outcomes for low-income children by working in partnership with the schools, the community and the family.”
The center could be a place where people from the neighborhood could gather without searching for a form of transportation, according to Mercer professor and MPN liaison, Mary Alice Morgan.
It could be used for educational programs for children (and parents) and for other events and activities within the community.
The MPN initiative’s mission is to end generational poverty in the Tindall Heights and Unionville areas of Macon with a community of unified support so that the neighborhood’s children can thrive and reach their full potential.
The initiative is working to increase the neighborhood children’s chance of success, putting them on a more level playing field with children with more resources.
The Bibb County school system has been supportive of the MPN initiative since its creation – the controversy arose after the school system’s total pledge was calculated. The board had made an overall commitment of $29.4 million, close to triple the amount the school board voted on in June, $10 million.
Sue Sipe, the school board’s acting president, said she thought the school board’s lease for the Promise Center was “nominal, like a dollar,” although she later discovered the actual cost, according to The Telegraph.
Superintendent Romain Dallemand committed $19.4 million (including the original $10 million) without board approval last July. Months later, in October, school system attorney Andrea Jolliffe informed the board of the increased amount.
The school board approved the new amount. However, the document shown to the board listing the total commitment did not include another $10 million of in-kind resources.
This extra $10 million commitment, which is at the center of the Collier lawsuit, was to be used for the Macon Promise Center.
The confusion within the school board and the Macon Promise initiative has been echoed in the media and the public, as the litigation process made open discussion about the topic off-limits for some time.
Despite the recent lawsuit, MPN is not slowing down its programs helping the community.
“We will continue to assist the efforts of the school district and build community resources in Unionville and Tindall Heights to ensure maximum outcomes for our children,” said Ebony Harris, MPN Project Director.
Some of the goals of the initiative are the healthy development and early learning of young children, readiness for school, early intervention for at-risk children and youth in school and graduation from high school ready to succeed in jobs or post-secondary education.
However, perhaps the most concrete goal of MPN is, within five years of implementation, to graduate 75 percent of Southwest students with regular education diplomas with 75 percent of those students continuing on to college or job training.
So far, MPN has built a strong coalition of around 30 partners, besides the Bibb County School District, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, Macon Housing Authority, Mercer University and Wesleyan College.
MPN has also brought tutors to several schools in Bibb County, some from Mercer University.
The initiative has also begun a successful four-week summer internship program
at Southwest High School, which places students with some of MPN’s partners, such as Macon Housing Authority, the Boys and Girls Club and several more.
The neighborhood initiative hosted an alternative weekend, with the purpose of bringing Mercer students, who have been very involved with MPN, and residents together to discuss challenges and opportunities, turning their thoughts into actions at the MPN Service Day a month later.
MPN is on its way to achieving many of its goals, although the initiative has not yet received an implementation grant. The application was sent in July 2012, and if awarded, will bring more than $28 million in resources to Tindall Heights and Unionville over the next five years.
Morgan sees the initiative as a serious opportunity and is excited to see Mercer students so involved with the initiative, whether it be in the Boys and Girls Club, service days, Big Brother Big Sister or tutoring.
“As a nation, we know howdifficult it is to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty. Simply doing what we’ve always done in the past doesn’t work,” said Morgan.
Morgan sees a great space for change in the Macon community and believes we can start with one small part of the community, the Promise Neighborhood, and soon the change will spread. For now, she says our focus should remain on the two neighborhoods, Tindall Heights and Unionville, until a definite upturn can be seen in these areas.
“Promise Neighborhood can be a game-changer for the children and families in Tindall Heights and Unionville because it is not simply services – it is a movement, embraced by residents, the school system, community leaders and non-profits,” said Morgan. “We are working together in unprecedented collaboration to move the neighborhoods past the ‘tipping point’ from failing schools and poverty toward academic achievement and economic prosperity.”