Tacoma Public Schools expands partnership with Tacoma Housing Authority

Since 2011, the Tacoma Housing Authority and Tacoma Public Schools have partnered to help families at McCarver Elementary School in the Hilltop neighborhood.

The program has produced results at the high-poverty school, increasing student reading scores along with the earned income of participating families.

An agreement recently approved by the School Board and the Housing Authority board will support the partnership for the coming five school years, with the hope of expanding it to more Tacoma schools.

The school district will pay the housing authority $125,000 per school year for its services.

Housing Authority Director Michael Mirra said an advisory group will study possibilities, and an additional school location could be selected as early as next school year.

The McCarver program offers rental assistance for families with children at the school, asks them to commit to keeping their children at McCarver and ensuring kids go to school, arrive on time and have space at home to complete homework.

Housing Authority caseworkers have offices at the school and help families access job training and social services.

The program has drawn national attention, along with grant money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It has helped students remain at McCarver throughout their elementary school years, reducing the frequent moves that can hurt the academic achievement of low-income kids.

“We continue to get all kinds of accolades for the creativity and innovation contained in this partnership,” Superintendent Carla Santorno said.

Mirra said children in poverty bring issues to schools that even the best teachers can’t overcome on their own. One goal of the program is to help break the poverty cycle that often repeats generationally.

In addition to the McCarver program, the Housing Authority operates a Head Start preschool program at the Bay Terrace development on the Hilltop and a Children’s Savings Account program to help low-income kids save for college. The agency puts surplus books from the school district into the hands of kids living in Housing Authority residences.

Ramona Millspaugh, who is raising her two grandsons, said the boys love school and love reading the books they get through the Housing Authority. She said the program also helped her get a job at the school. She started as a bus monitor, and added crossing guard and playground supervisor duties. She’d like to take online classes to become a paraeducator.

“They help you better yourself,” she said of the program. “They give you the tools you need to do better for your children.”

School Board President Karen Vialle called the Housing Authority partnership a flagship program for the school district.

“One thing that Tacoma does well is come together and solve problems, particularly for kids,” Vialle said.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo