RWCI and CMS will jointly lead the school, and a School Leadership Council will be comprised individuals selected by RWCI, CMS leadership staff and community members. Both the principal of the school and Laura Clark, RWCI executive director will serve on the council. RWCI is overseeing the implementation of a cradle-to-career education and services continuum as part of the broad Renaissance community redevelopment.
“CMS is excited about the partnership with Renaissance West Community Initiative to design a PreK – 8 school on a campus that will address the academic, social, emotional and medical needs of children,” said superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison. “This partnership school will allow CMS and RWCI to strategically leverage school district and community resources to assist and support families in meeting the needs of children birth to adulthood.”
RWCI had previously planned to build a charter school but restarted conversations with CMS in late 2013 under the leadership of Dr. Heath Morrison to explore the possibility of a partnership. CMS will utilize voter-approved bond money to build the school, which will allow this new school to serve neighborhood children in the immediate community surrounding Billy Graham, West Boulevard and Little Rock areas, whereas a charter school could not guarantee localized enrollment. The partnership will allow RWCI to focus philanthropic fundraising efforts on the very important child development center for early education and wraparound services which could include an extended school day for students.
The initiative, patterned after the success at East Lake in Atlanta developed by Purpose Built Communities, is a comprehensive approach that includes mixed-income housing, a high quality child development center, a PreK - 8 school, and wraparound services for children and families. Purpose Built Communities has agreed to provide a year-long principal fellowship program at the Drew School in Atlanta to gain best practices from the school’s model.
“We are delighted that CMS was willing to venture into uncharted waters with us to better serve students who often struggle academically in this area of the city,” said Laura Clark, executive director of RWCI. “We believe this will allow us flexibility to bring the best practices and allocate resources to provide the best cradle-to-career education for our children here and are grateful Dr. Morrison and the CMS school board shared that vision.”
This agreement advances the following goals contained in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Strategic Plan 2018 including:
HOW THE RENAISSANCE BEGAN
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA) a $20.9 million HOPE VI grant for the revitalization of the former Boulevard Homes. The public housing site had been home to 900 people and struggled with poor educational attainment, poverty, and violent crime.
In 2012, CHA created an advisory committee of local leaders and subject experts to craft a vision of success for the education continuum. Based upon the recommendation of the advisory committee the CHA board of directors approved the creation of Renaissance West Community Initiative as an independent non-profit organization in summer 2012 and began recruitment of its inaugural board of directors. The initiative appointed Laura Clark in April 2013 to coordinate efforts to augment the mixed-income housing with supportive services and a comprehensive education continuum.
Being built on 41 acres at West Boulevard and Billy Graham Parkway, The Renaissance is a $75 million community that will include 224 units of mixed-income housing, 110 independent living senior units, youth and adult development programs, a high quality child development center, the school, connection to the greenway, health and wellness services, and a community center.
Ultimately, the goal for The Renaissance community is to bring added economic development to the West Boulevard corridor. A community engagement committee is in the process of being formed to ensure neighborhood input is incorporated in the planning.
“The Housing Authority is very excited that the leadership of the CMS school district shares our cradle to career education vision and are providing flexibility to do whatever it takes to see success,” said A. Fulton Meachem, Jr., chief executive officer of the Charlotte Housing Authority. “This holistic approach to community revitalization and partnerships provide an opportunity to eradicate inter-generational poverty that plagues many of our residents.”
Model for chosen school
In March 2013, Renaissance West Community Initiative partnered with Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta-based nonprofit consulting firm that works with local leaders to transform struggling neighborhoods into vibrant sustainable communities where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Purpose Built’s approach is based upon the successful revitalization of the East Lake community in Atlanta.
Renaissance West Community Initiative plans to model the school after the Charles R. Drew Charter School, part of the East Lake community in Atlanta, which was redeveloped by the East Lake Foundation. Purpose Built Communities grew out of that initiative to replicate the holistic model in other cities. Based on the Drew School framework, the Renaissance school will include the following:
a. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) curriculum focus
b. Strong literacy focus in all grades
c. Curriculum flexibility
d. Principal Residency Program, funded by Purpose Built Communities
Similar to Boulevard Homes, the Villages of East Lake was once enmeshed in poverty and violent crime. In 1995, community leaders set out to rebuild and renew the neighborhood. Affordable and market-rate housing was built, as was the Drew Charter School, which became a cornerstone for the redevelopment.
Before Drew Charter School was established, only five percent of 5th graders in the neighborhood school were able to meet state math standards. Today, Drew Charter School students are outpacing their peers across the state. In mathematics, for example, 95 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 meet or exceed state standards, while 99 percent meet or exceed the standards for reading.
The school’s resounding success in working with low-income students earned it recent praise from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who lauded Drew Charter School’s achievements in April during a speech about resilience and rebuilding for low-income communities.
Planning is also underway with various partners such as the Stratford Richardson YMCA and Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation department to develop cooperative programs at The Renaissance as well as Central Piedmont Community College for programs for adult residents.
CHA has pledged $200,000 annually for the first two years for operations for Renaissance West Community Initiative. Fundraising is underway to support the education continuum, including the child development center and the programming and special initiatives for the PreK – 8 school. Realization of this ambitious plan will be dependent upon private donations to supplement CMS capital and operations to provide this unique, high-quality education.
In addition, the Sisters of Mercy Foundation has provided funding to support a RWCI director of programs and engagement for two years, who will operate out of the Renaissance community center, where RWCI will coordinate wraparound services.
About Renaissance West Community Initiative: Renaissance West Community Initiative is a not-for-profit organization coordinating the education and services continuum of the former Boulevard Homes public housing site into a vibrant, village called Renaissance. The initiative uses a holistic community redevelopment approach, focusing on multiple critical factors, including mixed-income housing, educational opportunities, youth and adult development programs, health and wellness services and commercial investment.
Led by executive director Laura Clark, Renaissance West Community Initiative was formed by community leaders in fall 2012 and is governed by an eleven-member board. For more information, please visit: www.rwci.org
About The Renaissance: The Renaissance is the redevelopment of the former Boulevard Homes public housing site into a vibrant, educational village led by the Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA). It is being built on 41 acres at West Boulevard and Billy Graham Parkway and is funded by a $20.9 million HOPE VI grant by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, awarded in 2010 to CHA. The city of Charlotte has committed $12 million in voter-approved funds, including $5 million of Housing Trust Funds (HTF) and $7 million from Neighborhood Improvement bonds to pay for infrastructure. Laurel Street Residential is leading the housing development.
At completion, the overall plan will include 224 units of mixed-income housing, 110 independent living senior units, youth and adult development programs, an early childhood development center, a PreK - 8 school, connection to the greenway and links to Southview Recreation Center, health and wellness services, and a state-of-the-art community space featuring trails and fields.
Laurel Street Residential, the residential developer for the community, started construction in September 2012 on the first phase, a 110-unit building for fixed-income seniors and the disabled called The Retreat at Renaissance which opened in Nov. 2013. The second phase providing housing for families will reach completion this summer when the Renaissance community center will open.
The overall project will also have a large emphasis on sustainability. The developer is pursuing LEED® Neighborhood Development certification for the Renaissance master plan. In addition, the team was awarded an Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant through the U.S. Green Building Council.
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