GagliardiPhotography/shutterstock

GagliardiPhotography/shutterstock

Parramore is a historically African-American community in the City of Orlando. Like other, similar enclaves, it has been under-resourced and under-served for generations. 

To spur investment in the community’s education infrastructure, local leaders recently created the Parramore Education and Innovation District (PEID)—an effort led in part by the University of Central Florida. PEID describes itself as “leading a multi-stakeholder initiative to develop and enhance an educational ecosystem in the Parramore Communities,” with the goal of providing a “pathway for every Parramore resident to earn a postsecondary credential.” 

Foundations including Kresge, JP Morgan Chase & Co, and Helios were engaged early. Helios funded a planning grant for the initiative in 2017. That planning process involved donor organizations, three different public education institutions, the City of Orlando, and a host of local community leaders and stakeholders. The outcome was a commitment to build an educational campus and synchronized programs in Parramore. 

The new offerings would provide easily accessible, seamless school and advancement opportunities from kindergarten through college, schools run by the public district, the regional community college, and UCF. With that blueprint, Helios and the other funding partners announced a $2 million grant in August. Helios—a funder that makes grants only for education and only in Arizona and Florida—led the funding, providing half the total. 

The Trust Factor

But what was it about Parramore’s situation that brought together local stakeholders and also attracted the attention of major funders? 

“Why does this neighborhood deserve this type of attention when others have similar needs?” asked Braulio Colón, Vice President for Florida Student Success Initiatives at Helios. Colon said that there were “a couple of dynamics in play” that appealed to the foundation: “A big part was stability of leadership in Central Florida.” 

John Hitt, who left his post last year, had been president of UCF for 26 years. Sanford C. Shugart, the president of the region’s primary two-year public college, Valencia College, has been there for 18 years. Orlando’s mayor, Buddy Dyer, has been in that office for 15 years. 

This stable leadership was a key factor that distinguished Orlando, according to Colón. “When we were looking at strategy in Florida, we looked regionally at how can we strengthen educational systems and Orlando, Tampa, Miami are all in very different places in terms of readiness to do large scale, system-changing work,” he said. Moreover, “In Orlando, there’s a history of embracing regionalism—pockets where they don’t view territories and competition but work as neighbors, identifying and celebrating what they can do together,” he said. 

That leadership stability and cooperative approach build trust with donors and partners. “Parramore is the outcome of that kind of trust,” Colón said. “The donor partners had the chance to do something with long-term partners they trust,” he said. 

Building Partnerships

At the same time, Colón added, the importance of the planning portion, with those stable partners, can’t be overlooked. “With that 2017 planning grant we could design a planning process, bring everyone together on what PEID would become,” he said. “From the start, we did not have a community engagement strategy, or the time and space to engage stakeholders to build the vision on how to leverage the new campus for the benefit of the community,” said Colón. 

Through planning, PEID found allies. “Because it was in city limits, the City of Orlando was heavily invested in helping to turn that neighborhood around, it sort of adopted Parramore as City of Orlando project and people like Harris Rosen, a local CEO in hospitality who’s invested in early learning and pre-K, were able to get involved,” Colón said. 

“It was a perfect storm for an organization like us,” Colón said. “Because we’re not just here to help plan—we are really committed to the long term.” 

Lessons for Funders

For funders, there are two lessons in the Parramore education project. The first, according to Colón, is that “large system change, culture-changing work does not happen overnight,” he said. “We can be impatient in philanthropy. We want to see big change. But with this, there’s this acknowledgment that system changing reform takes longer than three to five years. We’re becoming more and more comfortable—our board is getting that it may not be one grant or two grants that get us there,” he said. 

The other lesson is that change does “require that conditions are right on the ground, there have to be some readiness indicators that you look at before trying to create an ecosystem—that kind of organizing, network effort is long-term work, expectations have to be aligned,” said Colón. 

But when the stars are aligned, with stable leadership, trust and patience come together. And these conditions, in turn, attract funders of the caliber that have lined up behind PEID.  

Like other collective impact initiatives focused on education, it’s likely to be a while before the results of PEID become clear and the funders behind it have a sense of whether they want to deepen their investment. For now, though, this effort is surrounded by high hopes.

“When you think about what it means for a student, a child who grows up in that neighborhood, that they don’t have to leave their neighborhood to experience high-quality education, that’s big,” said Colón. “And not just education but access to resources, wrap-around supports, and have Valencia [College] and UCF across the street, then those students are incredibly positioned for success.”

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