HARLEM — Geoffrey Canada announced his resignation Monday as CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, a group responsible for creating a now-replicated national model for helping poor children in underserved areas to succeed educationally by providing services that touch every area of a student's life.
Canada, who has led the organization since 1990, will remain on its board as president. Replacing him as CEO will be Anne Williams-Isom, who has served as COO since 2009, officials said.
"Fifteen years ago when we were just creating the zone, it was an experiment," Canada said in a video.
The board had a "crazy idea" that "we might change not just the outcome for a couple hundred kids but for thousands of kids and we could actually improve living conditions in Harlem," added Canada.
Harlem Children's Zone serves more than 12,000 children in Harlem through its combination of charter schools and after-school programs. The group offers wrap-around services including a "Baby College" that helps expecting parents up to a college program that helps students once they start their post-secondary education.
The organization has gained national acclaim for its efforts. President Barack Obama based his Promise Neighborhoods initiative, which seeks to integrate educational and community support as a way to improve struggling areas, off of the Harlem Children's Zone model.
Last year, Harlem Children's Zone took an ambitious step when they opened Promise Academy I, a $100 million K-12 charter school in the middle of St. Nicholas Houses, a public housing development in Central Harlem.
The somewhat controversial project promised to improve the lives of the children and residents at St. Nicholas Houses by guaranteeing admission to the school for the young children of the development while providing jobs for its residents and changing the environment and culture of the housing development.
"They don't really believe this is for them and it's not until they actually experience their kids being in here and us providing services to this community that they will understand this is not lip service," Canada said to skeptics of the project at its 2011 groundbreaking.
Now, Canada said, the most difficult part will be the logistics of sustaining the organization's success.
"About 10 years ago I realized that it was working. It was no longer a question of can you go into a devastated community and change it but whether or not I could attract enough talent to make it permanent," said Canada.
Williams-Isom called the move a "natural progression" that "feels so right."
"You have to be called to this work," she added.
Speaking of Williams-Isom, Canada said: "This is the only person I have found in 10 years that I actually think could do this job better than me."