Charlotte Observer Lead Editorial
Philanthropy group's CMS plan promising
Project details for westside students to come on Monday.
Posted: Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011
Ever since members of a new philanthropic group announced last fall they were looking at ways to help Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, there's been great anticipation about what they'd do. On Monday, at West Charlotte High School, they'll tell us. Our advance report? Project L.I.F.T. looks impressive. It has great potential to not only help "lift" student performance among struggling students in Charlotte's westside communities but to become a model for change and success across CMS, the state and nation.
As important, the project has already excited and energized the community leaders and family and corporate foundations involved. They're hard at work to become committed partners with CMS in boosting student performance, and providing a platform for success for students who struggle most. That commitment, energy and excitement can become a catalyst for other groups, businesses and individuals to get involved.
The group, dubbed the CMS Investment Study Group, will announce Monday how many dollars it plans to give toward this effort. It is expected to be significant. But tackling this issue isn't only about money, as co-chairs Anna Spangler Nelson of the Spangler Foundation and Richard "Stick" Williams of the Duke Energy Foundation note. The larger goal is to leverage collaborations among government agencies, businesses, faith groups, private funders and others in the community to spawn a "more focused, better coordinated and stronger effort on behalf of our public schools."
Those last words came from Nelson when the group announced its intent. The plan they will unveil Monday hews to that. It will aim its private funding on increasing the number of effective school leaders and teachers, providing for more time on classroom instruction which includes increased support for prekindergarten, increasing access to and effective use of technology and boosting community support through parent engagement, mentors and specific programs targeting dropout prevention.
The group announced in October that it would focus on Charlotte's westside, where the graduation rate at West Charlotte High is just 51 percent - the lowest in CMS - compared with 70 percent systemwide. It's a wise strategy. By targeting one area, it has potential for huge impact.
The group aims to work in concert with community agencies that will provide "wrap-around services" such as health, dental and eye services and corporations and government agencies that can enable after-school, summer and even in-school activities and opportunities to aid learning. Finally, the group views this project as an incubator for innovation and creativity - where "charter school-like flexibility" could lead to systemwide policy changes that will benefit all students.
Charlotte could be on the cusp of something big with this initiative. It is a welcome slice of optimism on the education front amid the bleak landscape of budget cuts CMS and other systems face because of the struggling economy.
If this works, we might just become that world-class city that this community aspires to be. At least a group of philanthropists are focusing on the right goals to help us lay claim to the title.