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The Voice of the Black Community


Urban education aims should be open book
Former CMS teacher into philanthropy, engagement
Published Thursday, January 28, 2016 2:00 am
by Herbert L. White

Leon Webb, founder of The Open Book Foundation, a Charlotte-based nonprofit that donates books to low-income elementary schools. The foundation hosted a forum on urban education last week at Johnson C. Smith University.
















Leon Webb is challenging accepted notions of urban education.

A former Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher, Webb is founder of The Open Book Foundation, which donates books to low-income elementary schools and organizations. The Charlotte-based nonprofit founded in 2011 has donated more than 20,000 books across the U.S., and is spreading its focus to engaging communities on challenges facing educators in America’s cities. TOBF held its first forum last week at Johnson C. Smith University, bringing together neighborhood stakeholders to share dialogue on education in CMS.

The Post interviewed Webb, who works in Washington, D.C., about urban education, expectations, his foundation’s objectives and literacy.

Q: What do you hope to glean from public forums in communities like Charlotte?

A: “What we’re trying to do is bring awareness to issues surrounding education in the urban communities. Looking at it from a community support standpoint, we have a focus on this discussion, it’s going to be on community policing and how community policing impacts our schools. We talk about gentrification and how things surrounding gentrification and equality in Charlotte and the nation as a whole affect the type of educational environment our students have access to. What are the things we’re doing right, but also some of the things we’re doing wrong.”

Q: You’ve taught in CMS. Where is it now as it relates to urban districts?

A: “I think CMS is in a really good place because they’re really honing in on keeping that community engagement piece, especially the corporate sector and getting them really involved in things that are going on in our schools.

“One of the things that’s always concerned me is specifically Title I schools. Not looking at schools that are affluent or performing very well but looking at a lot of the underperforming schools and looking at are we really providing the resources and tools to those schools to make sure those students are being competitive. I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re definitely working toward getting there.”

Q: How much engagement should urban school parents make with the education process?

A: “When I was teaching, I don’t think we really appreciated the input parents provide to their schools. We have parents who work at Bank of America, work at Wells Fargo or doctors or lawyers or whatever the case may be and I don’t think we really utilize them as much as we could in terms of them being a voice and an advocate within the schools. I think CMS is trying to get there. I think there are definitely some challenges to getting there in terms of making sure those schools aren’t being left out.”

Q: What about the engagement of low-income families? What is their role in the education process?

A: “Just because a parent has a student at a Title I school, a kid lives in a neighborhood that appears to be low-income doesn’t mean those parents can’t or won’t be actively engaged in that child’s success. I think there’s a perception that because a kid goes to a Title I school or because a parent lives in a particular neighborhood that they’re less engaged or enthused about making sure their kid ends up with the best education opportunity they can have. …They do care and they actually do give a damn about the things that are going on in their schools.”

Q: Your nonprofit donates books to schools in low-income communities. What is the role of literacy in education?

Literacy, in my opinion, has always been the fundamental core of education. If you can read, there is opportunity to do anything else, but the most discouraging thing to a student or an adult is not being able to read. We take a strategic approach that we are going about this process of change in a direct action, which is why we donate books only to Title I elementary schools.


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