CITY OF PONTIAC SCHOOL DISTRICT/KAREN REED & STEDMAN GRAHAM
PRESIDENT OBAMA PROMISE ZONE INITIATIVE
By DIANA DILLABER MURRAY
Of The Oakland Press
Stedman Graham, author, businessman and long-term partner of Oprah Winfrey, will give a motivational talk on success to Pontiac High School students in support of the Promise Zone Initiative and at the invitation of Pontiac Superintendent Thomas Maridada II.
The Promise Zone Development Plan was presented by Oakland Community College Chancellor Timothy Meyer, chairman of the 11-member Promise Zone Authority, at a Pontiac Board of Education meeting.
Students who live in the Pontiac school district and graduate from one of the six eligible high schools within the district will be guaranteed a tuition-free first two years in college under the Promise Zone Development Plan.
Students in the graduating class of 2011 are the first-class who are expected to benefit from the plan.
A kickoff of the Promise Zone scholarship initiative has been planned for Thursday, when Maridada said about 300 Pontiac High School students — along with many area dignitaries — will be on hand at Oakland Community College Auburn Hills Campus to hear more about the program.
Over the past year and a half, the Pontiac Promise Zone has raised nearly $750,000, which has been determined to be enough to begin financing an associate degree or equivalent for each graduate over the next two years.
In partnership with the school district, KDR Global Education Solutions and the Pontiac Promise Zone Authority Board, Graham will present his Nine-Step Success Process and discuss his book, “Teens Can Make It Happen: Nine Steps to Success,” to help prepare students for college.
“It is our desire to be an instrumental part of the evolution that will take place in the City of Pontiac School District,” said Karen Reed, president of KDR Global Education Solutions, representing Graham. “The Promise Zone Initiative is designed to give the students an economic opportunity to attend college. We seek to complement that opportunity with proven sustainable programs within the Pontiac School District that will give each student a roadmap preparing them to take full advantage of this opportunity.”
The Pontiac plan is one of only three approved by the state Department of Treasury out of 10 programs in Michigan. When funds are available, the authority would like to expand the program to up to four years of college.
In his presentation Monday night, Meyer credited state Rep. Tim Melton for his “leadership and courage” in creating the legislation to make the Promise Zone initiative possible.
Meyer said the authority is hoping the residency requirement will bring new families into the district to take advantage of the free college promise.
“They can go to any educational institution, private or public, in the State of Michigan as long as it is accredited,” he said. The Promise Zone will fund up to the cost of tuition at Oakland University or the average cost of tuition statewide.
Meyer also pointed out, “This is not a handout, it is a hand up,” noting that students will have to demonstrate success in their college program.
“The plan also supports an additional year for college readiness,” for students who need such a program, he said.
Eligible students are those living within the district and graduating from Pontiac High, Notre Dame Preparatory School, Pontiac Academy for Excellence, Life Skills Center of Pontiac, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian and Auburn Hills Christian. The district includes Pontiac city and portions of Auburn Hills, Bloomfield Township, Waterford Township, West Bloomfield Township, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake and Lake Angelus.
Students must first apply for financial aid so the Promise Zone scholarship would cover only that amount not covered by financial aid.
The Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital Riley Foundation has served as a catalyst in the Pontiac Promise Zone effort.
“Thus far, the foundation has raised more than $300,000 through a variety of fundraising activities,” said Teresa Rodges, executive director of the foundation.
The Auburn Hills Tax Increment Finance Authority has voted to provide $400,000 for the project.
“You can turn the city around,” said state Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, a Pontiac graduate, who authored the legislation that made the Promise Zone possible, to the 200 or so students who filled the auditorium. Besides ensuring students can go through 12th-grade knowing they have a guaranteed college education in front of them, Melton said, in addition, “This is an economic development tool. This is just one step. This is just the beginning.”