Monday, June 18, 2012

East Meck's 'Star' still shines

Joan O'Brien was a bit taken aback when she read about last week's national business/education summit in Charlotte. No one had mentioned it to O'Brien, who's executive director of the East Mecklenburg High School Foundation.

America's Promise Alliance chose Charlotte for the first of four national summits because of the work being done by the public-private Project LIFT partnership, which this year launched a $55 million effort to transform nine west Charlotte schools.

O'Brien couldn't help but wonder:  Did anyone even remember the pioneering role East Meck played in using private money to boost public education?

Her call jogged my memory.  In 2006,  East Meck alumnus Bob Silver's $500,000 donation to his old school was front-page news.  Silver,  president of the Class of 1973, challenged the school to match his donation and create a $1 million, five-year fund to recruit and support great teachers.  The school did so,  and the All Star Teacher Initiative was born.

I had to admit:  My attention had wandered to the next shiny new project,  forgetting about the folks who were plugging along to keep a good thing going.  I was delighted when O'Brien told me the initiative is alive and thriving six years later.  The fund has sent teachers to out-of-town conferences, paid for staff retreats and  bought books, science equipment and play props.  Former Principal Mark Nixon tapped the fund to pay moving expenses for an out-of-state teacher he was eager to recruit.  All teachers get an allowance to cover classroom expenses that would otherwise come out of their pockets  (it was $200 this year).

The foundation,  a nonprofit created to handle the money for the All Star initiative,  hasn't sat around waiting for the money to run out.  Members have held fund-raising luncheons,  golf tournaments and theater events.

Nor has Silver moved on.  He lives in New Jersey,  and he's planning a party for East Meck alums from the Northeast to get them involved in supporting the school,  O'Brien says.

Of course,  there are always challenges to sustaining an effort.  Originally the group tallied success by trying to keep teacher turnover low.  But in 2009 Nixon was transferred to open the new Rocky River High.  Several East Meck teachers joined him there over the next couple of years,  something the All Star support couldn't head off,  O'Brien said.  Now, she said,  the goal is just seeing that teachers have what they need to do the best possible job with East's 1,700 students.

An aside: While scanning the East Meck web site for info about the initiative, I came across one sentence that made me do a double-take. "Since 1950, the school has had seven principals:  D.K. Pittman, Leroy "Pop" Miller, Frank Rozzelle, Gene Hawley, Ron Thompson, Mark Nixon and presently Rick Parker."

Seven principals in 62 years? Could that be true? Ron Thompson was one of the first principals I met when I started this beat in 2002,  so that means the last two have arrived in the past 10 years.  And that means the first five averaged a decade or so each. Wow. The times, they are a-changin'.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Ann, have you ever looked into how many IB students from Myers Park actually ended up at East Meck after that organization lobbied the BOE to destroy MPs IB feeder?

It was supposed to be in the hundreds.

Bill Stevens said...

"..And that means the first five averaged a decade or so each. Wow. The times, they are a-changin'.."

Maybe the secret is in the sauce.

Anonymous said...

Nobody would even remember Leroy "Pop" Miller had it not been for the efforts of Joe Harper and Barbara Ledford.

Anonymous said...

East Meck is not as diverse enough crowd to even approach the LIFT Goal and segregation agenda. Far too many kids at MP and East Meck actually want to learn and do soemthing with their lives. LIFT's agenda is to start welfare in the early education years so kids can continue on with it in their future years.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:25 - Really?

1) Private funding is not welfare.
2) East Meck is actually MORE diverse than West Charlotte. East's student population is around 45% African-American, 30% White, 20% Hispanic, and 5% Asian. West's is 85% African American, 3% White, 7% Hispanic, and 5% Asian.
3) Projects like this at East and LIFT should be applauded. They are public-private partnerships that better the public good of our city's general education. An uneducated populace leads to crime, hunger, and homelessness. Unless you want those things in your backyard get over yourself and your rhetoric and jump on board before Charlotte's future leaves you behind.

Anonymous said...

Ann, You seem to be surprised that in the past schools had long term principals (and guess what--many school systems had long term superintendents as well).

I just returned from visiting my hometown, (a suburb of a city about the size of Charlotte)which has its own school system as opposed to being part of a mammoth county-wide system (which is very common in many parts of the country). Principals there continue to have long tenures, just as they did when I was in school, as do the superintendent and many teachers. They are part of the community, with many living in the town and sending their kids to school there. They have had time to learn the culture of the area, to get to know the families, perhaps have even taught several generations of various families. This makes a huge difference--the school system, with a wide span of socio economic levels and students of many different backgrounds, is one of the very best in the state.

The "quick fix" mentality that prevails in education today, plus our own local penchant for moving kids and teachers around while never seeming to acknowledge that stability has merit, have left many students, parents, and school personnel adrift to the detriment of all. The constant demands from local and state activists for instant increases in test scores or else (lawsuit? bringing the feds back in? etc.) has contributed mightily to this situation.

I know these are not the good old days, and that education is now firmly embroiled in red tape and politics. I don't know if there is even a solution any more. But I do wish we could give smaller districts and stability a try!

Sharon Starks

Wiley Coyote said...

10:57 - Really?

I saw nothing in the East Meck article that showed how kids fared after money was spent. All it listed were "things bought", teacher expenses, etc.

Project LIFT is a joke. At least East Meck spent money on equipment and supplies and not teaching parents how to be a parent.

It would take billions to begin replicating LIFT in all schools.

We don't need another Bright Beginnings.

Anonymous said...

Wiley is a frequent poster on sites like this. He seems to have nothing better to do with his time. Anon 10:57 is right. LIFT and All-Stars show private investment in a public good. How often does that happen? Rarely, if ever.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 12:35...

Tell us where you would get $165 million more private dollars over the next 5 years to replicate LIFT in the next three low performing school zones.

And for your information, you know, that stuff that allows one to make informed decisions and comments, I have plenty to do.

If I don't have anything better to do, then neither do you reading what I post, right?

I thought so....

Anonymous said...

12:35 says--"...private investment in public good. How often does that happen?"

I'd say quite often--in fact all the time. How much time and money have businesses large and small and their employees given to CMS in various forms (perhaps Pam Grundy could speak up here and mention the various grants Shamrock Garden has received during her time there)? How many individuals throughout the county (including those from the Observer's favorite whipping boy, Ballantyne)volunteer and raise money for the huge number of charitable projects we have here in Charlotte? Just who makes investments in (i.e. foots the bill for) the Goodwill, the Salvation Army,etc, etc.

The Charlotte area has very generous citizens, although some prefer the storyline that the poor in our community are neglected.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:38 brings a good point - Charlotte does have a lot of private citizens willing to put in time and money into charity organizations. But those charity organizations are not public entities like Charlotte-Meck Schools.

Out of curiosity, Wiley, why do you believe LIFT is a joke? With what, specifically, do you disagree? Is it the fact that one area of the district gets funding and others don't? Or is it simply the lack of replicability without a lot of money?

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:40--You misread my post--private citizens and businesses do very generously give to CMS, both time, money, supplies, and services. Pam--speak up about what Target did for Shamrock's library (I think it was Target).

Why is it that the public does not know all the good things the community is doing for schools throughout CMS?

Anonymous said...

Let me help old Wiley out even though he does not need it. LIFT has not one ounce of accountability or measurement in it. Its to provide Ms. Watts who QUIT CMS a job and her select PALS jobs with raises. Its not achieved its funding goals yet either. Its a very segregated hate filled group and it wont help anybody or thing. If we want to "adopt schools with private money" whose schools would win that battle? The same ones that get good grades and low violence today. Answer is the kids that want to LEARN and go to school to do that.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 2:40..

1 - I disagree with spending $55 million on students while other just as other "deserving" students don't get a dime.

2 - I disagree with spending money to hire lobbyists to make changes that are directed at LIFT schools that could have repurcussion to other schools that cost taxpayers more money.

3 - I disagree with spending $55 million to educate parents on "how to parent".

4 - I disgree with spending $55 million on top of hundreds of millions for social services programs many already get.

5 - $55 million for 9 schools over 5 years equals $11 million per year or $1.2 million per year per school. Out of that, teacher recruitment bonuses, staff, lobbyists, parent involvement, social services and other expenses come out of the rest. How much money, other than supposedly getting the "best teachers", will actually impact learning for these kids? How do you sustain that kind of private money for say 20 years for another 30 schools? For the entire state?

What happens to these kids either way in 5 years? If the program is mediocre, kids actually drop in scores or let's say they increase, what then?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:57 (1).

I suspect Anon 9:25 meant "diverse enough" as in "black enough" which is typically the way this code word is used.

East Meck sounds more like real diversity than the PC diversity various "community" groups cry about.

Proving yet again that PC "diversity" is not about real diversity at all.

And when you think about it "black" isn't really that "diverse" from the mainstream in the US when compared to Hispanic or Asian.

Anonymous said...

I guess I just don't understand why so many are so mad for these two simple reasons:

1) Project LIFT is not paid for by the taxpayer. It is privately funded. A person i don't know has no right to tell me how to spend the money I make, just like I don't see any reason why I have a right to tell Foundation for the Carolinas, the Belks, or BofA how to spend their money.

2) Wells Fargo giving to West Charlotte doesn't in any way, shape, or form hurt the students of Vance, North Meck, Myers Park, etc. If it doesn't hurt you, and has the possibility of helping others, why throw a fit about it?

I think FFTC Pres. Mike Marsicano said it the best when he said something like LIFT is "an energizing case study," not a proven success. If we agreed to do only things that are proven successes, we'd never innovate.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 3:27... if Public education was a proven success, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Public education is that - public. I have no problem with anyone donating $55 million or any amount, as long as ALL children get some benefit from it.

To state "it doesn't hurt anyone", try telling that to the kids in the old Waddell feeder system or West Meck, where their graduation rate(s) was within a point or two of West Charlotte. Yet somehow West Charlotte is always the poster child for what needs to be fixed.

What if North Meck or any other school needed up to date science equipment but Wells Fargo only gave money to a few select schools - for whatever the use?

By the way. Project LIFT DOES affect taxpayers. We paid for those 9 schools which are effectively off the table for 5 years while this experiement takes place. We are also paying for support staff, upkeep, etc.

Anonymous said...

I maintain that the students from Waddell and West Meck are not hurt at all! So, they didn't get the program. They are no worse off than before. The creation of project lift does nothing directly to harm them. It just doesn't do anything to benefit them, either.

Concerning the point on taxpayers - if LIFT didn't exist, taxpayers would still be paying for those 9 schools. Wiley, your point is moot. In fact, with some of the salaries paid for by LIFT, taxpayers may have even saved money.

On Wiley's point about North Meck's fictional out of date science equipment - If a boy scout wants to build a picnic table for Freedom Park does that mean he has to build that same table for every other public park? NO. Nor do the donors to LIFT have to give to all children equally. It is not the private sphere's responsibility to pay for public needs. That is what government is for - to ensure the public good. If you want more textbooks, the only way to make sure that happens is to raise taxes and earmark that revenue for books. Don't rely on Wells Fargo to pay for it. If you actually care about equality of opportunity for students, then circulate a petition for a referendum on increased CMS spending on ALL schools, and I'll sign it right now. Please do it. God knows that Vance, West Meck, and North Meck could use it.

But don't spit in the face of private entities going out of their way to help some children without helping others. When Habitat for Humanity built the first new house for a homeless family, where were the people who berated it for not building enough houses for all of country's homeless? When Loaves and Fishes fed its first hungry child, did you bash it for not feeding all the world's hungry? Drop the double standard for project LIFT.

Wiley, I think it is time for you to be proactive. Get up from your keyboard and actually do something rather than just talk in chat rooms protected by the safety of a pseudonym. Where is that referendum petition? Why aren't you running for school board? I'm sure many people would vote for you (I mean this with respect - you make good arguments and obviously care about these issues). If you dislike the way CMS and LIFT are going - go express your concerns with Watts. It's time to put up or shut up - and I have a feeling you have the ability to put up.

George Williams

Wiley Coyote said...

George, (if that's your real name)

I maintain that the students from Waddell and West Meck are not hurt at all! So, they didn't get the program. They are no worse off than before. The creation of project lift does nothing directly to harm them. It just doesn't do anything to benefit them, either.

You cry foul if someone disgrees with what is going on with West Charlotte and LIFT but then flippantly disregard other students in the same situation in other schools?

The facts are that West Meck and Waddell had just as many low income students and graduation rate numbers as West Charlotte.

This is 2012 and we have to get philanthropy money to teach parents - how to be a parent?

You totally missed the point I made about those 9 schools. We are and will still be supporting the schools as before but from a control standpoint, CMS has a hands-off position BECAUSE OF LIFT.

You also miss the mark by the Habitat for Humanity and Loaves & Fishes comparisons. Both are Religious-based entities and tax dollars are not being poured into these organizations. Also, people who qualify must meet criteria for a house, help build it and pay a mortgage. They actually have to help "lift" themselves out of poverty as opposed to living off taxpayers.

Many LIFT families already get government assistance with LIFT pouring on even more.

We already know there is fraud in the school lunch program, which affects all money coming into these schools. It is a FACT that sample audits show, not only in CMS but across the country, that many who receive benefits DO NOT qualify. Yet, again, more money is being thrown at the problems.

Regarding running for the BOE? Trust me, I've had many people ask me to run. Since I travel in my work and stay out nearly 60 or more days per year, it would be impossible to serve.

I wouldn't last two seconds on the BOE if I were to be elected. I wouldn't put up with much of the garbage they deal with week after week.

I've said it 100 times here that public education needs to be totally dismantled and rebuilt by eliminating diversity as a driving principle.

Help those kids who truly need the help, monetarily and academically (VERIFIED) and move on. If their parents don't get it, too bad.

The time for bleeding hearts is over. America can't wait. We keep falling father behind year after internationally.

Finally, I will not shut up. Get use to it. Don't like my point of views, don't read them.

Art Van Delay

Anonymous said...

Waddell's students were hurt when their beautiful school was given to Smith and they were sent to rodent infested Harding.They were thrown out of a mansion and crowded into a ghetto with mobiles, floating teachers and overcrowded classrooms.

They were taken from a staff that established a family atmosphere for them and given to one that could care less. A staff that did not try to understand their needs much less meet them. The apparent lack of empathy and concern fueled their anger. The administrative response was suspend, suspend, suspend the West Meck and Waddell kids while exhibiting a double standard when it came to punishing IB kids for the same infractions.

Waddell's kids were bused miles away from their neighborhoods making it very difficult to participate in after school tutoring, club activities and sports. It also made it difficult for their parents to volunteer.

So yes, Wiley is correct, why West Charlotte and not Waddell and West Meck? Politics, Politics, Politics.....check out the alumni of West Charlotte.

E. E. Waddell High School is no more, please let it rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Amen George Williams!
Thanks for putting in writing what I think when I read these comments.

Anonymous said...

The IB students being "reassigned" to EM was not in the hundreds. Just goes to show, students were at MP for social reasons and used IB to get there. Both EM and MP have stellar IB programs.