The People Project

:
Dedicated to strengthening education and
the economy in St. Lawrence County and
advancing the well-being of its residents
I. What is The People Project?
The People Project brings together educators, parents, community members, employers and
government leaders in a large and growing coalition dedicated to strengthening education and

Contents the economy of St. Lawrence County and advancing the well-
being of its residents.
The project is dedicated to developing a broad coalition
to identify and tackle community priorities that strengthen
education and the local economy in St. Lawrence County.
I. What is The People Project?
This unprecedented, countywide initiative is committed to:

II. Background and origins • Vibrant grassroots community engagement
• High quality public education for all and
III. I nspiration comes from • Creating a sustainable local economy that
supports everyone.
“Reconnecting McDowell”

IV. Next steps for The People Project II. Background and origins
The People Project evolved from a grassroots initiative to save jobs. In November 2015,
ALCOA, the aluminum manufacturing company that is a major area employer, announced it was
V. Sources
closing its local plant — a move that would have had devastating economic and social impact in
St. Lawrence County. The leaders and members of local education unions vowed to take action
to help save the jobs of the ALCOA workers. Working closely with the affected workers and their
union, they organized to bring together workers, families, business and government leaders and
all impacted by the closing.
The “People over Profit” rally, with strong participation by teachers and other staff dedicated
to serving the students of St. Lawrence County Schools, was held in Massena in December 2015.
Its mission: to bring attention to the needs of St. Lawrence County and to call upon ALCOA to
keep its promises to its workers and the community.
The local education unions successfully mobilized their members in a community rally that
included other union members, elected leaders from the local, state and national level; and
members of the public. More than 2000 people attended the rally and subsequent march. The
local teacher unions, which are affiliated with the New York State United
Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, brought support and speakers from NYSUT,
the AFT and the state AFL-CIO. Participants were inspired by impassioned speeches from
elected leaders, union officials at the state and national level, and the community members
affected by the threatened closing
of the plant. Local, state and some
national media extensively covered
the unprecedented turn out for the
rally and the broad-based commu-
nity participation it represented.
Ultimately ALCOA management
was dissuaded from its plan for a
unilateral closing, and many jobs
were saved for the good of the
community.
For the educators who rallied
to the side of ALCOA workers, the
successful rally and accompanying
march, and subsequent progress in
saving jobs, illustrated the importance of coalitions “We knew we had to do this the right way with a lot of partners,” AFT’s Weingarten said. “The
in effecting positive change. Dedicated to the needs of people in McDowell had to want us to be involved, and they did. We also knew we were going to
their communities, they wanted to continue and grow have to tackle a host of issues — education, social and economic.”
the coalition that had demonstrated its solidarity
A community schools initiative figures prominently in Reconnecting McDowell’s efforts to im-
with ALCOA workers. “As educators, we know there is
prove student learning. Community schools partner with youth organizations, social service agen-
a direct connection between children’s circumstances
cies, food banks, higher education institutions, health clinics, and businesses to meet the academic
at home and their readiness to learn in the class-
and nonacademic needs of students and their families. The result: teachers are free to teach and
room,” says guidance counselor Erin Covell, president
students are ready to learn. Research shows that community schools can reduce chronic absences
of the Massena Federation of Teachers. “Job loss and
due to poor health, decrease disciplinary problems and increase student learning. McDowell has
poverty are devastating to families and our students.
established a full-service community school including a health clinic; two other schools will begin
We realized — after the successful rally that brought
the process of becoming community schools this coming school year.
so many people together in one common cause —
that we wanted to keep this coalition together to Today Reconnecting McDowell’s list of partners — private, not-for-profit and governmental —
continue this collaboration on behalf of our numbers more than 125. The coalition has secured more than $17 millions in grants, funding and
communities.” in-kind donations of time and resources. Since its inception in 2011, Reconnecting McDowell has
The leaders of the local education unions saw value been able to leverage its broad-based support for everything from literacy programs to technology
in continuing and expanding a broad-based coalition new housing intended to help combat a teacher shortage.
that could tackle other needs in St. Lawrence County
A partial list of Reconnecting McDowell’s achievements includes:
and improve life for their students and residents.
Seeking to build on coalition progress in St. Law- • $1 million in state funds for Save the Children trainng for educators
rence County, teachers researched other examples of to implement early childhood and literacy programs in McDowell
broad-based community engagement with track re-
cords of effecting positive change. They were inspired • A $100,000 grant from Frontier Communications to work with
by an ambitious multi-year project well underway in Globaloria on online learning projects
McDowell County, West Virginia.
• $150,000 from the AFT Foundation for the planning process

III. Inspiration comes from “Reconnecting McDowell” • A multi-year commitment from First Book to provide free books for every county child
McDowell County, where the loss of coal mining jobs has devastated the local economy and fam- • A library makeover for Mount View High School
ilies dependent on it, is one of the most impoverished areas in the country. Like New York State’s
North Country, McDowell is a mountainous area isolated from other employment centers and • A $100,000 planning grant from the Benedum Foundation
lacking full access to cutting edge technology. It typifies the challenges poverty imposes on students
and families seeking education. Research shows a direct correlation between levels of poverty and • $9 million in services by Shentel Communications to wire every county school
student readiness to learn. with fiber optics for consistent Internet access
In 2011, Gayle Manchin, then-vice chair of the State Board of Education in West Virginia, and • Additional wiring of 10,000 homes
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, collaborated to launch a
ground-breaking and ambitious initiative. Called “Reconnecting McDowell,” the project’s first steps • A $50,000 grant to First Book for 10 Family Literacy Centers throughout the county
included building a coalition and securing investments to strengthen education and the economy in
McDowell County. Weingarten says the broad-based community initiative is dedicated to the belief • After-school programs operated by Save the Children for about 200 students in three
that “neither demography nor geography should determine destiny. elementary schools, with special emphasis on literacy skills

Reconnecting McDowell seeks to revitalize the region by building area public schools into com- • A Teacher-in-Residence bill passed by the Legislature to allow Concord University
munity hubs — embodying economic revitalization through public education. The unprecedented seniors studying education to fill teacher vacancies, under master teacher supervision
public-private partnership was launched with more than 40 partners committed to enhancing edu-
cational opportunity for children in McDowell County public schools. • New band instruments, valued at $30,000, provided by VH1 Save the Music Foundation to
Mount View High School
At the announcement ceremony, then-Gov. Tomblin welcomed the opportunity to partner with
teachers and their union in the effort to revitalize McDowell County, noting: “Just like in many areas  • A three-year, $300,000 grant from AT&T to fund the Broader Horizons mentoring
of our country that are plagued by the global recession, educational and employment opportuni- program for high school juniors
ties are not where they should be for McDowell County residents. This public-private partnership
has the power to change lives for the better in rural West Virginia and inspire other communities • The opening of a juvenile drug court to provide teenagers with treatment and
throughout the nation to follow suit.” programs to deter truancy
• Funding from the West Virginia AFL-CIO to begin digging water lines for homes As part of a sustained initiative, the project’s strategies are to:
• Healthy eating and nutrition programs for grandparents and other caregivers • Create coalitions to identify the needs of communities within St. Lawrence County; secure
support and funding for those initiatives; and work together locally to strengthen services
• A
 sbestos abatement and environmental clean up for a vacant downtown Welch building to to meet identified needs.
make way for a planned $5.5-million Renaissance Village providing affordable housing to
young professionals — in particular teachers – to combat a teacher shortage and spur econom- • Work closely with community members, employers, and government and not-for-profit
leaders to better meet community needs by strengthening services such as literacy and
ic development “Reconnecting McDowell is figuratively and literally breaking ground,” says
education, health services, healthy food initiatives, affordable and safe housing and
Weingarten.
mentoring programs.
• Southside K-8 school is now a community school providing social services and other • Through a sustained commitment to quality education for all, build jobs and grow
interventions to students and their families, with others slated to open in the fall. the region’s economy.
• All county students now receive dental services
The People Project emphasizes grass-roots coalition building and community consensus
• Outpatient mental health therapy services are offered to all high school students and in setting and achieving goals. The project is collaborative and inclusive. While “Reconnecting
at one middle school McDowell” in West Virginia serves as inspiration, it also underscores how important it is for
Significantly for parents, students and educators, over the course of Reconnecting the St. Lawrence People Project to forge its own path. That means a commitment to community
McDowell, the county’s public schools have posted modest, but measureable gains: engagement; reaching consensus on needs; and achieving broad-based support for any
initiatives.
• State education performance audits document increases in the number of schools rated
“fully compliant” on measures of academic progress. In its first year of operation, with support from the NYSUT Solidarity Grant, a People
Project committee met monthly to consider locally based initiatives, such as Massena’s
• The four-year high school graduation rate for the district has increased from 74 percent in parent outreach spaghetti dinner, to begin discussions about community needs and
2010–2011 to 80 percent in 2014–2015, the year for which most recent figures are available. solutions for addressing them.
The dropout rate has decreased, from 4.5 percent in 2010–2011 to 2 percent in 2014–2015.
Going forward, community needs will be assessed through one-on-one engagement with
community members, discussion with local organizations, and through focus groups and sur-
IV. Next Steps for veys. Once the needs assessment has been completed, a leadership committee will determine
The People Project in focus areas and short and long-term goals, and a committee structure will be set up based upon
projects and activities.
St. Lawrence County, N.Y.
“The People Project is focusing on the potential for high-need districts like Massena to devel-
Following the successful rally for ALCOA op its schools as community hubs, seeking outside funding to assist in supporting the commu-
workers, 32 local educators representing all nity schools model,” Covell said. “We already do so much of what community schools do already,
18 school districts in St. Lawrence County this approach has potential for our students and our communities.”
pledged to continue working together to
engage their members and the community In its first year, The People Project has partnered with Local 420 Steelworkers, Brier Hill Fire
in addressing areas of need. They applied Department, Ogdensburg Knights of Columbus, Canton Unitarian Universalist Church, Home-
to their statewide union, New York State land Security, and Parishville-Hopkinton Parks and Recreation Department.
United Teachers (NYSUT) for a Solidarity “We’re just getting started,” Covell said. “Through collaboration and consensus, we look
Grant for the express purpose of advancing forward to growing The People Project as a grass-roots force to strengthen education and
an unprecedented, countywide initiative the economy in St. Lawrence County. “
dedicated to
• Vibrant grassroots community
engagement
• High quality public education for all and
• A sustainable local economy that
supports everyone.
After a detailed application and vetting
process, The People Project — as this grass-
roots initiative was now called — received
a grant of $165,000 from NYSUT, one of the
largest in the statewide union’s history.
V. Sources
“Community Holds Rally in Massena after Announcement to Keep Alcoa Plant Open,”
Time Warner Cable News, Dec, 5, 2015
“Group receives grant to help with regional revitalization efforts,” Watertown Daily
Times, June 27, 2016
“Mountains to Climb,” American Educator, June 16, 2016
“’People Over Profits’ organizers moving forward with rally, march today,” Watertown
Daily Times, Dec. 5, 2015
“People Over Profits: Rally for Alcoa Workers in Massena,” storify.com/nysut.org/peo-
ple-not-profits, Dec. 5, 2015
“Reconnecting McDowell begins demolition work in Welch,” MetroNews: The Voice of
West Virginia, June 9, 2016
“Reconnecting McDowell: Schools in West Virginia aim to improve students’ prospects,”
PBS NewsHour , Feb. 3, 2015

2017

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