Transformational Erie Community Foundation Grant Announcement Erie High to Become United Way Community School

Wednesday Jul 19th, 2023

July 19, 2023 --- Officials from The Erie Community Foundation announced today a $2M Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Transformational Philanthropy grant to United Way of Erie County for the establishment of the Community School Model at Erie High School in Erie’s Public Schools.

“This transformational grant from The Erie Community Foundation marks a substantial step forward in our vision to create a united, vibrant and thriving region for all,” said Foundation President & CEO Karen Bilowith. “Our collective goal is to impact our next generation—many of whom are students at Erie High School.”

This significant investment in United Way’s Community School Model continues the series of strategic grants made by The Erie Community Foundation since community schools first launched at five pilot schools in Erie’s Public Schools.

In 2016, The Erie Community Foundation provided $1.5M in startup funds to launch the model by filling gaps in funding for supplies, programming, staffing and training. In 2018, the Foundation focused its support even more by funding a $250K multi-prong attendance improvement strategy at the five schools because we knew if students don’t attend school, they can’t learn.

The Erie Community Foundation’s $2M investment will help complete the continuum of support for the vast majority of students in the City of Erie. Now, K-12, students will benefit from this proven strategy to bring resources into the school building that address and remove the specific nonacademic barriers preventing far too many children in the City of Erie from being successful in school and in life.

The work of the United Way Community Schools is in alignment with the priorities of The Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Transformational Philanthropy including:
• Persistent poverty
• Low educational attainment
• Workforce readiness
• Economic decline

In 2016, United Way of Erie County, in partnership with Erie’s Public Schools, launched an unprecedented initiative that would break the cycle of generational poverty in our community using a razor-sharp focus on academic success.

We know education is the key to unlocking the plague of economic inequality facing our region. This was not undertaking a quick fix, one and-done program. Rather, it required a philosophical shift and long-term commitment to look beyond putting a band-aid on a superficial gash that covered a deeper wound.

That initiative was community schools.

At its most basic level, the Community School Model identifies and removes the nonacademic barriers to learning low-income students face daily. How this is accomplished is much more complex, and requires following the collective impact framework, leveraging adaptive leadership and committing to systems-level change, with United Way acting as the backbone organization. A backbone organization serves as the coordinating body that brings together a diversity of stakeholders and leads a synchronized effort to achieve a common goal.

Since the launch of the community school initiative with five pilot schools, 13 schools in Erie’s Public Schools are now United Way community schools, including all 10 elementary and three middle schools. The model also extends into 3 additional districts, Girard, Iroquois and Union City Area. The results have been nothing short of remarkable, despite a two-year disruption of educational and support services delivery because of the worldwide pandemic.

The success of the model in these public elementary and middle schools has changed the lives of thousands of our most underserved students, supporting them in ways that go beyond description as they advance through their school years.

“Investing in our children’s future is paramount,” Bilowith added. The Erie Community Foundation’s $2M grant is not just a monetary contribution, it is a symbol of hope, opportunity and belief in the potential of every child in Erie.”

Laurie Root, United Way president shared, “We are beyond grateful that the Foundation’s Board of Trustees also shares this belief. We guarantee the return on investment will go far beyond the dollars committed. We look forward to our continued partnership with Erie’s Public Schools and The Erie Community Foundation to open the doors of opportunity for all city students, making Erie a place for public school educational excellence and student success.”

Erie High School is a comprehensive high school that enrolls about 1,690 students in grades 9-12 in person and offers 18 different career and technical education programs. It is currently undergoing a $72 million renovation.

“The project is part of our pledge to ensure that all of our buildings are warm, safe and dry spaces for our students to learn. Today’s investment is no less important,” Erie’s Public Schools Superintendent Brian J. Polito said.

“Thank you to our great friends at United Way of Erie County for bringing this model to our district, and to the Erie Community Foundation for the financial support that will help us expand it to Erie High. Becoming a Community School is critical for the future of this school as we work to ensure that our Erie High students and families create the kind of future they dream of.”

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