Friday, August 20, 2010

Change coming at MeckEd

Kathy Ridge, the former banker who has led MeckEd for a little more than two years, has told the group's board she's ready to try something new.

Ridge says she's starting to scout her own options -- something related to education, which could include running for office, writing, producing documentaries or working for another nonprofit -- while harboring high hopes for the public-schools advocacy group.

"I am not grabbing the beers and going out the emergency chute," she said, referring to the fabled farewell of an angry flight attendant.

MeckEd, also known as Mecklenburg Citizens for Public Education, evolved out of public angst over Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leadership five years ago. Business and political leaders created a task force to recommend changes in CMS. Afterward, the task force merged with the Charlotte Chamber's education arm and an existing education-advocacy foundation to create MeckEd. Its goal: To serve as a critical friend to CMS, providing advice and support.

The group got off to a rocky start, with a huge board and a first director who didn't last long. A streamlined board chaired by Krista Tillman of Queens University of Charlotte hired Ridge in May 2008.

Since then MeckEd has raised $3 million for CMS leadership and staffing initiatives, held training sessions for prospective advocates and board candidates, held book clubs and brought speakers to town to get community leaders talking about a vision for education.

Ridge says she's hoping for an unhurried transition, one that gives her time to scout new possibilities and allows the board time to find a strong successor.

Changes in leadership tend to spark new thinking about a group's vision and strategy. It'll be interesting to see how the corporate and advocacy community sees its role in public education evolving.
Tillman, who says she has "an extremely heavy heart" over Ridge's departure, expects to start a search next month.


Anonymous said...


MeckEd had tremendous potential but squandered it before Ms. Ridge ever arrived. When the organization declared it wanted to be a "critical friend" to CMS' new Superintendent it shot itself in the foot not knowing it only had one leg to stand on. That was in 2006.

As an organizer of events the group has been mildly successful. As a leader it has been nowhere. Pete Gorman has been the only leader of substance.

MeckEd couldn't be a follower. So without a mandate, other than to spend a pile of previously scattered dollars, it has floundered. It has been invisible and without much to say.

That last point, "not much to say", is its drawback. You'd have to be a heck-of-a group to be out in front of Gorman. That has removed all the opportunities to be innovative; except for the forwarding of Charlotte's tradition of community involvement.

Of course CMS isn't the only education engine in Charlotte. There is CPCC, UNCC, other colleges, charters, religious schools and hundreds of small groups that constantly beat the drum for achievement. There remain the purposes of all the defunct groups MeckEd consolidated. Somehow MeckEd hasn't found a leadership role out of all of that.

The MeckEd board is impressively stacked with connections, brainpower and energy. As long it is in the shadows it will it cheat itself. The town needs an active spoon to keep us reminded that education is a way of life; not just a K-12 drama.

Good luck to Kathy, a more cheerful person there isn't.

Bolyn McClung
Pineville, NC
August 20, 2010

Anonymous said...

My apologies upfront for being rude, but isn't Kathy Ridge kind of a serial non-profit person? Seems like she never stays with one organization for more than a few years and finds a way to move on. How constructive is that for each organization?

I've heard nothing but nice things about her as a person and as a leader, but have to wonder if she really has the skills to helm an organization for a longer term and really have an impact?

Anonymous said...

I do not see how MeckEd could be successful as a "critical friend" with all the board members being cheerleaders for a dysfunctional school system. There is too much political pressure to prevent CMS from being an educational institution. If you come down on the wrong side of an issue, the "elitists" begin their character assasination of you and will even approach your work place about your activity attempting to get you in trouble with your managers. It has happened to me. Everyone thinks because this is the system that started the wastefulness of cross town busing via the Supreme Court that is has to stay that way forever. And by the way, keep taking more and more tax money from the hard working "chumps" in this county and redistribute their income to the "sorry ones".

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with 11:18 that the "elitists" (that would be what many refer to as "limousine liberals") still hope we will return to busing. I believe Ms. Ridge was firmly in their camp when she came on board to MeckEd two years ago. But she did learn and grow in the job and apparently came to understand that it was time for the system to move forward. However, it is disturbing that the board hired someone who originally knew very little about CMS other than the "common wisdom" that we were in big trouble because we no longer bused.