The group of private philanthropists and community leaders, which has been working on the initiative since September of last year, said that their plan will cost $55 million to implement over a five-year period. The project will focus on enhanced teacher and school leadership quality, more time spent on task (including extended day, out of school time, and pre-kindergarten programs), access to technology, and policy changes that will allow school leadership more freedom. An extensive outreach program is also planned to engage community and business leaders, faith communities and others in ensuring that students get the most out of their educational opportunities.
The group has begun to raise the needed funds and many of the family and corporate foundations represented on the study group have indicated their intention to provide financial support to the project, for a combined $40.5 million so far. The following organizations announced their intentional gifts:
The fund created by the gifts will be held at Foundation For The Carolinas.
Anna Spangler Nelson of the C.D. Spangler Foundation and Richard “Stick” Williams, president of the Duke Energy Foundation, who co-chaired the group, summarized the group’s findings and recommendations. “We aimed to impact the most basic measures of student achievement – the graduation rate and overall performance,” said Nelson. “Through reading and research, an intensive series of meetings with national experts, and meetings with the West Charlotte community, we have identified the actions we can take that are most likely to make a difference for this community’s students.”
“We believe this approach, combined with our exceptional educational leadership and strong community partnerships, will make a sustainable impact in student achievement,” said Williams. “While Project L.I.F.T. will be something truly innovative and special that makes the most sense for our community, its outcomes will serve to address what is clearly a broader, national issue.”
Charles Bowman, North Carolina and Charlotte market president for Bank of America and a member of the study group, said the bank wanted to participate in the project for several reasons. “The stark reality is that North Carolina ranks 46th with respect to graduation rates in this country, and we just simply cannot wait to address the future of our community’s youth. At Bank of America, we understand the financial health of our company is inextricably linked to the health of our communities and in order for our country to compete in a global economy we must close the achievement gap.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman, who, along with members of his staff, has provided the study group with information about CMS schools throughout the fall, said, “This astonishing generosity in a time of budget cuts is especially important for the schools in the West Charlotte corridor, where gains have been made recently in proficiency rates.” He added, “With the dollars that are being provided, we will put into practice measures we know will work. This group has looked at data with a practical mindset to find the things we can do that have produced results in communities across the country.”
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who participated as a member of the study group and is a West Charlotte alumnus, said, “This extraordinary gift marks yet another turning point in our community and proves that what unites us - a shared interest in the success of every child - is so much stronger than anything that divides us. We can no longer afford to allow up to half of our students to fail to complete their high school education.” He added, “The achievement gap is not unique to our community but what is unique is our capacity to close it. Let Charlotte-Mecklenburg be the American community that eliminates the achievement gap.” The West Charlotte corridor was chosen as the focus of the effort because of West Charlotte’s graduation rate of 51%, the lowest in the CMS system.
Outreach to the West Charlotte community was also an important ingredient in the study group’s efforts. Starting with a session asking community leaders for their partnership, they engaged in extensive dialogue with the West Charlotte community. Five community forums, including one for high school and middle school students, drew a total of more than 800 participants throughout the autumn months. In addition, the group sponsored a free screening of the 2010 documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which dramatically highlights issues of educational quality and access in America. More than 650 people attended.
Nelson and Williams added that the gifts announced so far are conditional, and will not be considered as final until the fundraising goal of $55 million is reached. “All the funders agree that we want this effort to make a real difference, and we don’t want to settle for half-measures,” said Williams. “We must reach our goal in order to move this innovative plan forward.” An intensive fundraising campaign targeting other foundations is already under way, added Williams. For more information about Project L.I.F.T., please call 704.973.4582. Donations may be made through Foundation For The Carolinas at www.fftc.org.
Leon Levine, the well-known Charlotte-area philanthropist, and retired Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Family Dollar Stores, Inc., said, “We are delighted to be joining this group of foundations in supporting a critical effort for our community. It’s a bold project that is designed to transform more than just one school. Our family has always supported education, and we see this as one of the most important efforts our community has ever made. We hope the community agrees and will support with time and funding this urgent need.”
Project L.I.F.T. originated when representatives from The Leon Levine and C.D. Spangler Foundations met in the summer of 2010 to discuss how to make their giving to local educational causes more impactful. Both foundations have a history of giving generously to educational causes. With help from Foundation For The Carolinas, they formed a committee made up of 13 members representing family and corporate foundations, as well as community leaders with a passion for education. They determined to address the system’s top educational needs as defined by the community, in a series of community forums held last summer by the board of education.
Throughout the fall months, the group studied existing models for philanthropic involvement in public education that have proven successful in other communities. They also heard from national experts, some of whom visited Charlotte, and worked extensively with CMS personnel to determine both what educational measures would work, and how best to engage potential investors in supporting them.
Project L.I.F.T. will move soon to appoint an executive director to oversee the work, and plans call for some of the measures to be in place in time for the start of the 2011-2012 school year, with a full rollout in 2012-2013. While the executive director will report to the school system, a board made up of investors will provide accountability.