By Pablo J. Sáinz
For many years, the community of Castle Park in Chula Vista had some of the lowest perfoming schools in the city. That has started to change thanks in part to a Promise Neigborhood grant a local organization received last year from the Department of Education totaling almost $5 million for the first year of a five-year grant.
The Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood, a coalition of local agencies led by South Bay Community Services, has developed an implementation plan for a seamless continuum of cradle-to-career solutions that will provide all children with high expectations for success, steady and nurturing relationships throughout the pipeline, and a clear and viable pathway to college and career success.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior staff at the Department of Education will wrap up the 2013 back-to-school bus tour—”Strong Start, Bright Future”—with a visit Castle Park Middle School on Friday, Sept. 13.
Duncan will highlight the important role that community plays in educating children. Castle Park Middle School, along with four other schools, is located within the CVPN. More than half of the students in CVPN receive free or reduced lunch and are English language learners.
“The strength of America’s economy is inextricably linked to the strength of America’s education system,” said Duncan, who will began the bus tour on Monday, Sept. 9, in Santa Fe, N.M. “This year’s bus tour will be an opportunity to discuss throughout the Southwest how investments in education are critical to our country’s future and how state and local reforms are delivering encouraging results. Our theme, ‘Strong Start, Bright Future,’ also speaks to the importance of starting the school year off right and providing all our children with high-quality pre-school to ultimately prepare them for success in college and careers.”
Castle Park is the catchment area for Castle Park Elementary School, Chula Vista’s worst performing school. It is home to more than 6,700 individuals, 51 percent of them of Latino origin, according to Census data.
For Kathryn Lembo, executive director of South Bay Community Services, this visit is a recognition that the community is on the right path thanks in major part to the Promise Neighborhood grant.
“We are honored that Secretary Duncan is visiting and recognizing this community’s efforts in making education one of its most valuable assets,” she said.
Last year, when he announced the grantees, Duncan said that the program “Promise Neighborhoods recognizes that children need to be surrounded by systems of support inside and outside of the classroom to help them be successful in school and beyond.”
SBCS chose to focus on Castle Park because “it has had the lowest performing schools in Chula Vista, and a lot of low-income families,” said spokesperson Shirley Horton in a 2012 La Prensa San Diego interview. “We want to understand the community’s needs in real life situations to learn how we can help them.”
Lembo said that the program is important to the community because parents are receiving the tools they need to help their children succeed academically.
”Well over half of the parents in the community didn’t graduate from high school, so a vital part of our work is to support parents and help build a community as a place that supports education and has the know how to do that,” she said.
Mauricio Torre, youth and family development department director for South Bay Community Services, said that working with the community as part of the Promise Neighborhood program has been a communitywide effort.
“We paired up with SANDAG and worked with Promotoras to go door to door, sometimes five times, to gather data that would help us design programs specifically to meet the needs of Castle Park families”, Torre said. “As a result, with CVPromise partners, we designed programs that are laser focused and data driven.”
The Castle Park Community Celebration will take place on Friday, Sept. 13, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. There will be more than 35 agencies giving out information on health care, education, and other social services.