It all began after Hurricane Ike struck in 2008. Angela Brown had sold her popular island shop, Mod Coffeehouse, and for the first time in years had some extra time on her hands. The post-Ike shape the island would take was on everyone’s mind.
A friend told Brown about an Atlanta, Ga., development known as East Lake, where private developer and philanthropist Tom Cousins worked with the Atlanta Housing Authority and residents to raze and rebuild one of the most violence-plagued public housing projects in the nation.
Brown went with friends to visit East Lake. The story was about more than pretty new buildings. She was impressed by East Lake’s approach to improving education opportunities for children, including the Charles R. Drew Charter School and the Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Center for children from birth to prekindergarten.
Experts consider early childhood education — from birth to age 8 — key in breaking cycles of poverty and ensuring all children reach their potential. The East Lake educational programs had astonishing results, according to reports. In 1995, just 5 percent of neighborhood fifth-graders met state math standards. Today, it’s 78 percent at Drew.
“It was a success story that inspired us,” Brown said.
Brown returned from the Atlanta trip to Galveston, a city with a large concentration of poverty. With the help of many people, she founded the Galveston Sustainable Communities Alliance and began recruiting a governing board of six, which has since grown to 13.
For her volunteer work, especially in forming the alliance, The Daily News staff selected Brown as a 2013 Community Champion. She was honored along with five others at a recent reception.
Brown, who with her husband, Craig, moved to the island full time in 1999, had in many ways invested in the community through business and volunteer work. But her previous experience in philanthropic educational work amounted to buying tickets to support groups at Ball High School. So, she sought to recruit people who knew more about it than she did, she said.
The alliance understood that the way to revitalize a community was through improved education opportunities. Healthy home environments for children, support services for families and great education opportunities were key, Brown said. The family of island developer and philanthropist George Mitchell gave the alliance a grant to begin an education assessment on the island.
Island consultant Cindy Roberts-Gray is serving as a needs-assessment and program-evaluation consultant to the alliance, and Marina Ballantyne Walne — CEO of EduStart, a consulting practice specializing in startup education and philanthropy ventures — agreed to help the alliance. School district officials at different levels also agreed to help.
“We didn’t do this by ourselves,” Brown said. “We had so many helpers get involved.”
The alliance worked with both the public schools and parochial schools, as well as 22 child-care facilities to conduct an in-depth education survey of Galveston. Brown said island educators were excited to work with the alliance on the endeavor. The alliance also worked with the Galveston Economic Development Partnership, Galveston Housing Authority and the University of Texas Medical Branch to learn about all areas of assistance and to evaluate partnership opportunities, Brown said.
The alliance survey revealed 76 percent of students in Galveston’s school district are economically disadvantaged. In round numbers, half the students are Hispanic, a quarter are African-American and a quarter are Anglo. The dropout rate in the Galveston school district is about 15 percent.
About half the graduates of Ball High have to take remedial courses in community college. Galveston has more than 60 facilities that care for 1,647 children who are not yet in kindergarten. But the quality of early childhood education varies — about half of those facilities provide high-quality educational programs, according to the alliance’s survey.
By 2020, the alliance hopes to see a graduation rate of 92 percent at its high schools. It would like to see 80 percent of those students ready for postsecondary education or certified for a place in the work force.
Where others might see insurmountable issues, the alliance sees opportunities. Understanding the issues will help formulate plans for programs, Brown said. The alliance is working with community and education leaders to develop a 10-point transformation plan, Brown said.
“This is just the beginning,” Brown said. “The first thing we have to do is get everybody on board and know where we’re going and that’s what we’re doing now.”
Galveston Sustainable Communities Alliance board members
Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz
Lyda Ann Thomas