Text taken from Early Lessons from a Public-Private Education Turnaround Initiative.
In 1971, a federal court ordered Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to use busing to integrate its racially divided schools. Within a few years, the district became a national model of successful desegregation, with West Charlotte High School the jewel in the Queen City’s crown. With the dismantling of busing in the 1990s, however, West Charlotte High School again became a majority minority school. By the 2009–10 school year, West Charlotte’s graduation rate was 51 percent, the lowest of all CMS high schools.
In 2010, some of Charlotte’s leading philanthropists began taking stock of dismal graduation rates in the city’s highest-poverty schools and the growing student achievement gap between poor and minority students and their more affluent peers.
By January 2011, a funder collaborative had coalesced around the goal of supporting district efforts to address these challenges. Their strategy targeted the West Charlotte corridor, defined as West Charlotte High School and the elementary and middle schools that feed into it, for intensive intervention-based teaching and learning reforms that could ultimately be replicated across the district. Thus Project Leadership & Investment For Transformation, or Project L.I.F.T., was born.
A five-year district turnaround initiative, Project L.I.F.T. is focused on achieving three specific “90-90-90” goals: 90 percent of West Charlotte High School students will graduate on time, 90 percent of L.I.F.T. students will achieve proficiency in reading and math and 90 percent of students in the West Charlotte corridor will achieve more than one year’s academic growth in one year’s time.
Created through a public-private partnership among several members of Charlotte’s philanthropic community and CMS, Project L.I.F.T. is financed by $55 million in philanthropic funds and in-kind donations primarily from Charlotte’s biggest private and corporate foundations. The initiative aims to achieve its goals through investments in four areas of educational intervention known as the Project
L.I.F.T. pillars of Talent, Time, Technology and Parent and Community Engagement.
Project L.I.F.T. is an initiative that other communities are watching. Its funders intended for others, including CMS schools and other districts in North Carolina and across the country, to learn from L.I.F.T.’s experience, achievements, and shortfalls.