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Opening week for Project LIFT programs
Initiative launches with summer academics
 
Published Friday, June 15, 2012 2:03 pm
by Sommer Brokaw

School’s in for Project LIFT.

The education initiative, Project Leadership and Investment for Transformation, officially starts on June 18 with summer programs targeting achievement gaps in nine northwest Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. The program, funded by $55 million in private contributions, includes West Charlotte High School, which had a 54 percent graduation rate in the 2010-11 academic year, as well as its feeder middle and elementary campuses and pre-kindergarten schools. 

Denise Watts

“The focus is really on the pre-K-12 feeder pattern because we want to prepare kids when they get to West Charlotte so they’re not starting over there, so they’re not already in deficit,” said Denise Watts, LIFT’s zone superintendent. “They’ll be able to advance much easier than they would if they were already starting behind.”

The partnership between Project LIFT and CMS solidified, leaving Watts, who was originally the executive director, to report to the initiative’s governance board and Ann Clark, CMS’s chief academic officer.

A full rollout of the program will begin this school year and last five years. Watts called the goal of 90 percent graduation rate at WCHS in five years “ambitious,” but necessary.

“The goals we set were high, they were ambitious. It is motivating for me for them to be that ambitious. It is motivating for people who believe that failure should not be an option, whether it’s failure of one child or the entire project,” she said. “It is not acceptable for any child to not graduate from high school so if I had it my way it would be a 100 percent.”

School board member Richard McElrath, who represents West Charlotte in District 2, said he is skeptical of the program’s potential.

“The only reason they’re in the corridor is because of poverty, and I don’t see anywhere where Project LIFT is doing anything to increase the per capita income in any of the areas they plan to go into,” he said. “They can throw a lot of money in there. They can say that they can prove that you can educate a child that lives in a high-poverty area and attends high-poverty schools, but you haven’t proven that you can do it if you’re going to spend five years there and go out.”

Project LIFT partners include the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, which will provide summer and afterschool programs as well as Freedom Schools, a summer program that will serve 600 students.  

Summer enrichment programs include Building and Educating Leaders for Life, or BELL, and Charlotte’s Web, a Johnson C. Smith University initiative that will enroll 40 West Charlotte freshmen and sophomores for project- and technology-based learning, career development training and life skills. BELL will serve 1,260 students in the summer and 320 students with afterschool programming.

Alison Boulding, Druid Hills Academy’s PTA president, said Project LIFT is already having an impact.

“The children weren’t doing as well as they could have and we were really hoping that this opportunity this summer will really boost the students academic confidence and also prepare them to be better students for tomorrow,” she said.

Watts said most of the programs Project LIFT invests in are established programs, although the JCSU program is new.

“The concept they had was closely aligned to our strategic plan in more than one way,” she said. “The combination of technology being something that is engaging for kids, and the mentorship being on a college campus, all those things show initial signs of being a strong program.”

In other recent developments, a partnership with Presbyterian Hospital resulted in 200 students getting immunizations they needed to go into sixth grade instead of possibly being suspended due to non-compliance.

Watts said that they also have been working on assessing current staff at the nine schools. More than 200 high-performing teachers and other employees were given incentives to stay and over 100 have been transferred by administrative command or voluntarily.

 

 

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