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Initiative aims to address education crisis
Project LIFT in urban schools
 
Published Thursday, February 3, 2011 9:04 am
by Sommer Brokaw, For The Charlotte Post

Even with a projected budget deficit of $100 million in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools a new pilot program is lifting up students hopes for a brighter future.

On Jan. 31, CMS Investment Study Group announced the creation of a program called Project LIFT [Leadership and Investment for Transformation] to support additional services and educational enhancements for CMS students in the West Charlotte Corridor.
PHOTO/PAUL WILLIAMS III
West Charlotte High School alumnus Jeanette Price (right) talks with students Matthew Guthrie and Tyiste Taylor at the launch of Project LIFT Tuesday at WCHS.


“We spent a little bit of time trying to determine a name, and here you see Project LIFT and part of that is that we indeed want to do just that which is lift up what’s going on in education here, and not just here but in our state and in our country and in our world,” said Dr. Ophelia Garman-Brown of Novant Health, one of the study group’s colleagues. “And we realize that it is through leadership and through investment and through transformation that will happen.”

The project will focus on enhanced teacher and school leadership quality, more time spent on task including extended day, out of school time, and pre-kindergarten programs, access to technology, and policy changes that will allow charter-school like flexibility.

Cathy Bessant, a Bank of America executive and board chair of Carolinas Foundation For The Carolinas, asked the 20 students who participated in the engagement process of the CMS Investment Study Group to stand.

“Many times when we have a frank conversation about education we start to talk about statistics, and some of those statistics are very favorable and some are very challenging and tough to hear. As we began a discussion that will by its nature at some point be involving statistics, that group of students came as student leaders to voice some very important views that shaped the thinking behind this work,” she said.

“I want us to take just a second and to realize it’s not about statistics. Why we’re here today is about these beautiful children who have given us their time and their thoughts and who represent thousands of others who stand to benefit from the work that we’re talking about today.”

The West Charlotte Corridor will have approximately 7,500 students in 2011-2012. At West Charlotte High, the graduation rate is 51 percent – lowest in CMS – but is also making progress. The six elementary schools and one middle school that feed into WCHS have lower math and reading scores on standardized tests. Richard “Stick” Williams, co-chair of the CMS Investment Study Group, said the statistics led the panel to decide to focus investments on northwest schools. 

The group established an unprecedented goal of collectively raising $55 million for a five-year pilot to implement the initiative starting in the 2011-2012 school year. Partners including The Belk Foundation, Foundation For the Carolinas, Wells Fargo Foundation, Duke Energy Foundation, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, C.D. Spangler Foundation, and Leon Levine Foundation, pledged a combined $40.5 million.

“This is an example of people stepping up in our time of greatest need, and I think you really take a measure of things by how people step up when you’re in your worse situation so this is great, this is phenomenal,” said CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman.

Anna Spangler Nelson, a co-chair of the study group, said contingencies have been addressed to make sure the project is fully funded and not endangered by unexpected CMS decisions. As for next steps, they will work hard in the coming months to secure pledges, partnerships, and volunteers to join them and establish a new oversight board. They will hire a new director and will refine the plan and began selected investments as soon as possible.

Students said that they were hopeful that this investment would change attitudes about their school.

“I feel like the perception of West Charlotte needs to change, and I think this new program will help change that and perhaps the will to succeed will change as well,” said Tyiste Taylor, West Charlotte’s valedictorian.

“It’s good to feel support coming into our school,” added Raeven Henry, a West Charlotte junior. “Before it felt like it was a little neglected, but now that I can see a lot of love coming in here, a lot of attention, I know we’re going to do much better.”
Jacquan Stover, a senior, agrees. “It can really change the outlook that we have of ourselves and the way that other people may consider us because we have the potential to be successful, and I think that this program will help us to exploit that potential,” he said.

Project LIFT stems from when representatives from the Leon Levine and C.D. Spangler foundations met in the summer of 2010 to discuss how to make better use of their giving to local educational causes. With the help from the Foundation For the Carolinas, they formed a committee made up of 13 members representing family and corporate foundations as well as community members with a passion for education. 

“We have an extraordinary opportunity to help educate our children,” said Tom Lawrence, executive director of the Leon Levine Foundation.  “Never in Charlotte history have we come together as a group of corporate, private, and community foundations with an announcement of such generous gifts in support of young people and a handful of deserving public schools.”

Bishop Claude Alexander, senior pastor at University Baptist Park Church in Charlotte, referred to “money answers all things,” in Ecclesiastes 10:19:

“Now, the writer of Ecclesiastes did not mean that money solves all things but the writer of Ecclesiastes understood that where there is financial strength to an issue it helps give voice and weight to the solution,” he said. “I want to thank the members of the Investment Study Group and those of you who represent family and corporate philanthropy because you have given greater weight and voice to the recognition that we really do have a state of emergency, and it requires the effort of us all. If we are to stem the tide, if we are to reverse the trend, it must be targeted, it must be comprehensive, it must be collaborative, and it must be inclusive.”

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