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Other communities examine Kalamazoo Promise

June 14, 2010

KALAMAZOO--In the wake of President Barack Obama's visit to Kalamazoo and his focus on the city's free college tuition initiative--the Kalamazoo Promise--community organizations in that city are offering a national conference June 16-18 aimed at helping other cities accomplish the same kind of transformation the Promise has created locally.

"Investing in Youth for Community Transformation," the third annual PromiseNet Conference, will take place Wednesday through Friday, June 16-18, at Kalamazoo's Radisson Plaza Hotel. The conference is designed to bring together communities investing in education and economic development through place-based scholarship programs.

The Kalamazoo Promise is a college tuition guarantee for graduates of the Kalamazoo Public Schools that has been attracting national attention--most recently on June 7 when Obama visited the city to serve as commencement speaker for Kalamazoo Central High School's Class of 2010. He praised the Promise initiative, saying, "I think that America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo about what makes a successful school in this new century."

Those coming to Kalamazoo this week to study the Promise and its success will hear from three featured speakers:

  • Nationally renowned economist, author and commentator Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women.

  • Kalamazoo investor William D. Johnston, president and chair of Greenleaf Companies.

  • Gregory M. Darnieder, special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Education and advisor on the secretary's Initiative on College Access.

Conference attendees also will hear from Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell; Dr. Janice Brown, executive director of the Kalamazoo promise; and many others.

Conference sessions will be led by a number of individuals connected with the Promise and Promise-type initiatives. They include: Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent Michael Rice and school officials affiliated with similar initiatives in El Dorado, Ark.; Pittsburgh; La Crosse, Wisc.; Peoria, Ill.; and other locations.

"The goal of PromiseNet 2010 is to connect communities that are working together to transform themselves," Brown says. "The conference is designed to bring together individuals from all over the United States who are invested and engaged in education-based economic renewal like Kalamazoo, as well as those in the planning stages."

Conference sessions will focus on building community and student support, economic development and municipal vitality, creating a college-going culture, achieving educational excellence at all school levels, and research and evaluation. Conference attendees will also have the opportunity to tour more than 10 Kalamazoo sites that include schools like Linden Grove Middle School as well as organizations that have programs working in conjunction with The Kalamazoo Promise, such as Bronson Healthcare, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center and Western Michigan University.

Attendees also will hear from two panels of Promise recipients--one group attending WMU and another made up of students studying at other Michigan schools.

In late 2005, anonymous donors in Kalamazoo stunned the nation by launching the Kalamazoo Promise, which provides free college tuition to any public institution in Michigan for graduates of the Kalamazoo Public Schools. The anonymous donors' generosity was reported to be triggered by a blend of commitment to education and the desire to position the community for prosperity with a well-educated work force. The gift and its impact are being watched closely by communities across the country.

PromiseNet was established in 2008--nearly three years after the Kalamazoo Promise was announced. The network’s first conference was held in Kalamazoo in June 2008 and the second in Denver in June 2009.

Conference registration

The cost to attend the full 2010 conference is $250. One-day registration is $150. A special student rate is available for $100 for those with valid student IDs.

For more information about attending the conference, visit PromiseNet online or contact WMU's Cheri Lay at (269) 387-4174. PromiseNet's 2010 conference is sponsored by 22 supporting organizations, primarily located in Kalamazoo.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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