Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Opportunity Culture still evolving in Project LIFT

Opportunity Culture jobs may be the hot thing for Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. House, but in the Project LIFT schools that pioneered them they're still a work in progress.

Zone Superintendent Denise Watts talked about the quest to create higher paying jobs for great classroom teachers as part of a Project LIFT update to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday.  A couple of things are clear,  she said during the presentation and in a conversation afterward:  The jobs continue to attract a lot of interest,  and they can be effective in retaining the best teachers.


Watts said her office got 800 applications for a small number of jobs at five schools in 2014-15.  It was interesting to see how those numbers broke down,  though:  140 of them passed an initial screening and 65  "elite candidates"  got through three interviews and a data review.  So far 27 have been hired,  her report said,  joining nine who remain from 2013-14.

So how many does that leave still to hire?  Well,  that's where things get murky.  Watts said everything from enrollment projections for her nine schools to the General Assembly's decision on teacher assistants will shape the number of jobs available.  Why assistants?  Because some schools have used assistant positions to bolster pay for teachers taking on extra duties,  so if the legislature eliminates those posts it could become more difficult to make the new jobs work.

When I asked about the teachers who took on the first jobs in 2013-14,  coaching colleagues and/or using technology to reach more students,  Watts hesitated again.  Even during that first year,  she said,  some principals redefined jobs.  And some teachers sought changes.  Watts cited the example of Ranson Middle School math teacher Romain Bertrand,  who took on the responsibility for supervising math instruction in two grade levels,  with about 800 students.  She said he asked to cut back to one grade level in 2014-15,  even though it means a pay reduction,  in hopes of being more effective.

The ultimate question  --  Did those teachers boost student success?  --  has yet to be analyzed.  But Watts said that while the opportunity culture approach may not be proven yet,  the change doesn't mean it's failing.  In fact,  she urged West Charlotte to create some opportunity culture jobs for the coming year in hopes of keeping some academic standouts who were being recruited elsewhere.

The Project LIFT schools will join with 17 more CMS schools in continuing to work on the system next year.  Cabarrus County schools has also signed on with the Public Impact,  the Chapel Hill firm leading the national experiment,  to launch the opportunity culture in 10 schools next year.

And if plans in the governor's and House budgets prevail,  more counties will get state money to start their own pilots over the next couple of years.

Watts said she thinks the additional ventures would be a good thing:  "I don't think it will be a perfected model until we do it a few times."


Anonymous said...

What Ms. Watts is not telling you is that the turnover rate at Project Lift schools are probably the highest in the district! People get hired for the opportunity jobs but when they find out how unstructured these schools are and the principals are, they quit! Ask Ms. Watts why in her office alone she has had 4 executive people either quit or move on to other jobs; some in the district and some out. It sounds and looks to me like the sailors are abandoning a "sinking ship." In order for Project Lift to be successful, Ms. Watts needs to get involved and show support to the people that she has hired......some schools that she supervises as an Area Superintendent NEVER saw her at their school for anything meaningful....sure if there was a photo opt involved! She is not doing what she claims she is and sooner rather than later, everyone will know. People can talk a "theory" but can you put the "theory" in action!

Anonymous said...

So far 27 have been hired ... but they were quickly fired for lack of work ethic. LOL

Anonymous said...

Anne, you need to interview those who have left! I have heard the situation at the schools is chaos. Also, interview any of the candidates who showed up at the West Charlotte job fair for potential leadership roles and left in disgust! The interviewers were rude and patronizing and the candidates were treated like cattle.

Unknown said...

"I am the Great and Powerful Wizard of Project Lift". "Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain".

Anonymous said...

After Project Lift has had its run, Heath goes to NY to get some innovation for West Meck. A check of the NY innovator's school website is a real eye opener. Rosetta Stone for the former foreign language magnet. Wiley, it's your turn. West Meck has had virtually everything thrown at the principal position over the last decade, yet never hired the one or two competent assistant principals who knew the spirit and culture of the school.
For every season, churn, churn,churn,
For every reason, churn, churn, churn

Anonymous said...

So a great teacher at AK or Providence doesn't have the "opportunity" to make a decent living. No wonder so many teachers are looking for "opportunities " in other states. You can get a job in Texas or up north with out all the hassle or the need for a bulletproof vest. South Carolina is becoming a better "opportunity". Know wonder my children's school are loosing so many great teachers.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely like to know the turnover rates at the LIFT schools as well as an insider's view of what it is really like (ie culture, stress levels, student behavior, etc).

Would anyone who is no longer working for LIFT care to share with us the details in an anonymous manner?

Anonymous said...

Would any former Project LIFT teacher like to share with us the low down on what it was like?

Wiley Coyote said...


I can't say about a whole decade at West Meck, only the years my son was there.

Thankfully, during part of that time, Charity Bell was principal. She is the only one in my opinion that had a clue about what was happening and what to do. There were also other people there at the time who were emgaged and meant business.

Notice I said part of the time. Unfortunately, after Bell left, I wouldn't give you a plug nickel for the replacemnet(s).

This is from an article by Tara Servatius in 2008 after the BOE had their Kumbaya moment over bullying and passed some resoltion about politically correct anti-bullying diversity resolution:

...Enter Principal Bell. A student brought a gun to West Mecklenburg High School two weeks ago, WBTV News reported, and pointed it at another student. Then last week, police broke up a violent fight at the school over the gun incident and arrested several students, WBTV said. An enraged Bell took to the school intercom.

"We are going to move to expulsion because you don't deserve to be at West Meck," she roared. Note that she didn't threaten to actually expel any one. Bell doesn't have the authority to do that. Her threat was so radical it actually attracted news coverage.

"I needed to let students know safety comes first and if there is ever a problem I am going to get on the loud speaker," she proudly told WBTV.

She's going to get on the loudspeaker? After kids threaten other kids with guns?

Achievement Zone Area Superintendent Curtis Carroll says he's all for Bell's "get tough" approach.

"Safe schools is real big, and I think Ms. Bell was letting students know real clearly that we are not going to have inappropriate behavior at West Meck High School," Carroll told WBTV. (Apparently we aren't going to have correct grammar, either.)...

Every now and again you get someone with the guts to get tough and the downtown crowd and their diversity bullsh*t be damned.

Take back our schools said...

If you are asking for folks to speak out about their exiting at Project LIFT schools, I think you are in for a rude awakening. Because of the sponsorship of Project LIFT, the person speaking out had better not be employed within Mecklenburg County anymore or have family employes.

Retribution in this city by the "blessed" is severe.

Been there, done that!

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:32 - "KNOW wonder my children's school are LOOSING..."

Get some education!

Anonymous said...

History will prove Project Lift as an expensive failure with regards to West Charlotte High School. You can hire the finest teachers you can find, but they will not have an impact until the people in the community around West Charlotte start to value education.

Anonymous said...

Ann check out Public Impact's presentation the the NC educator effectiveness and compensation task force.

Opportunity culture is not what it's cracked up to be.

Shamash said...

"So far 27 have been hired ... but they were quickly fired for lack of work ethic. LOL"

And these were from the "elite"?

Who's doing the final interviews, someone from DSS?

Anonymous said...

fyi..there needs to be tough love at the suburban schools too. There are plenty of parents that don't give a *^$^$&$# about their little Johnny and Susan, maybe for different reasons. The stuff that's going on at Providence, South Meck and Audrey Kell are just as bad, and the number of students that have an "I don't give a sh** attitude".

Shamash said...


"She's going to get on the loudspeaker? After kids threaten other kids with guns?"

Most of us know that gets to the root of the REAL problem in many public schools and why so many of us vote with our feet.

It's the tolerance (and sometimes even "praise") of savage behavior like this that turns so many civilized people away.

It's exactly why my parents left my "urban" HS some 40 years ago.

The shootings started the year after we left.

The year I was there it was knives, razors and baseball bats, so it's not like we weren't "warned".

Of course, way back then, almost NONE of this would ever make the "news".

At least today they KNOW to put police in the schools and give regular crime reports.

Shamash said...

Anon 1:02pm.

How about some details of what's happening at those suburban schools?

Maybe there are a few parents out there who would be concerned if you let them know.

Anonymous said...

I just visited the West Charlotte High School website and went to the princpal's corner. I found this statement in his address to the students and parents:

"Our staff, parents, and students feel that our school is one of the best in the state."

You "feel" that your school is one the best in the state, based on what?

Anonymous said...


Can you find out the years CMS principals have spent teaching in the classroom. This is a stat that I am sure would suprise ALL taxpayers. I remember that Gorman did not even have a liscense to teach in NC, so what about Morrison.

The informed minds want to know !

Anonymous said...

Take Back Our Schools: anyone who is no longer employed (or even currently employed) can post on this blog in an anonymous manner as I am doing right now. I know how nasty the retribution can be.

Anonymous said...

Come on Shamash,
You must not know the old teacher's joke about the progression of a serious crime that goes
1. Resource officer-arrest/warrant
2. Area Superintendent-this didn't happen
3. Communications-"Let us handle this."
4. Principal-"I thought I was in charge."
5. Assistant Principal-"ISS for two days."
6. Parent- He's never done anything to warrant this."
7. Teacher-!@#$%^&*()_++_**&^%$#@!!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone can answer this question. The DPI top State Salary for a principal with 46+ years experience and a staff of 101+ teachers is $107,328. MOST of the CMS principals are NOT in this catagory but the salaries ARE Bloated. is it that there IS money for Principals but NOT teachers. Where is THIS extra money coming from in CMS to pay these VERY HIGH salaries IF the state has a CAP? I say do away with the Principals altogether and pay the AP's, Financial Sec'y and Registrar more as THEY are the real "managers" of the school.

Anonymous said...

Project lift will not succeed until you have them agreeing that not every child is meant to be in the classroom. When I see the new great magnet programs at North Meck. that include automotive, culinary, carpentry only have a few or no students applying I know the system isn't working. These kids will continue to feel like failures. These are perfect kids to join an apprenticeship, see that that are fabulous at xyz and the world is not meant to all know pre-calculus. But adults will continue on their "righteous" journey and show the "man" that "we" too can learn in the classroom. The Project Lift folks are going about it all the wrong way. These kids come from parent(s) who don't probably know 1+1=2 and because their lack of education is such, are only showing their kids how to survive by stealing, manipulation and gaming the system. Teach these kids how to fish, and they will feed themselves for a lifetime, teach them pre-calc and it means making them feel like a failure; they will feel it when applying to college and see that they need Math 0093 and 0095 before they are allowed to take Algerbra 101.

Anonymous said...

3:08 (and I think some others have raised this issue), my understanding is there's a county supplement for administrators (school and central office) and it's much more variable and significant than the across-the-board amounts for teachers.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice to know how this supplement is determined. There is a huge discrepancy in principal pay, even for those principals who have the same experience and took principal jobs at the same time (look at the salaries of principals who have been placed in the last two years and the differences in their pay).

Anonymous said...

Sunday's article about illegal aliens (yes I said it) has me wondering how these kids can stay in schools. I'm assuming that they don't have to supply vaccination/dr's readiness for kindergarten like everyone else does. Am I right? Our principal stressed during kindergarten open house that if this info wasn't provided by day 30-kids would not be allowed in school. Is this something additional to the list that doesn't apply to most in CMS?

And I would love to hear from someone at Project Lift since we cannot believe any "results."

Cornelia said...

Ann, why don't you do a detailed story about the COUNTY supplement for administrators, and its variables, i suppose that Trevor Fuller would allow that kind of story to run?

Anonymous said...

I am all for proofs of concept and support the idea of Project LIFT as a means of determining whether increased funding that addresses outside-of-school issues that children of generational have can have a significant impact on closing using the methods at CMS is testing. If so, i hope it can be replicated. If not, I hope these educators will admit tat is not the solution. Will we get the unvarnished truth about Project LIFT's impact? Or, will it be more of CMS' spin? I absolutely do not trust CMS to be forthright. I also thought it ludicrous for the Chamber to claim it went to Minneapolis partly to see how they were closing the achievement when Minneapolis City Schools have had little success from that perspective. CMS must think Charlotte residents are so stupid they simply take them at their word.

Anonymous said...

Whatever ! Not surprised that the program with ZERO accountability is failing. Trust me Ann this Mrs. Watts is not going to tell you the bad as she wants that pay check. Should be about 24 months left for Project LIFT as far as original funding. She will not be able to continue to sell false numbers in year 4 or 5 so the curtain will fall. Find a staff member who left and interview them. Report on that and the PR photos she takes at schools she never goes to is hilarious. KW Hurley

Anonymous said...

@1:45 I would love to see those stats as well. I would also like to know how many of the teachers and administrators in the Project LIFT schools are TFA (Teach for America) or Teach Charlotte affiliated. These "elite" teachers are most often from these organizations. They are replacing the real educators that have a hard time staying within these schools that push practices that are not best practice in education.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:14
you have a very good point, not all children are destined to be doctors so to speak. Our society has devalued skilled trades people and that is a shame. We need skilled people, masons, chefs, carpenters, auto technicians etc. I agree with you, encourage kids to consider these programs.

My daughter is about to start her freshman year at A.L. Brown high school. We went on a tour of the school a few weeks ago, we were amazed with several of the programs available to students. I am sure these programs played a role on keeping students engaged. The graduation rate improved from 62% to over 85% in 5 years time.

and before anyone counters my point, the school also implemented an AP Academy last year and they also have a state of the art STEM academy.

Anonymous said...

with regards to Project Lift. I had a very insightful conversation with a professional who specializes in working with trouble youth. I was troubled by what he told me, the bulk of the money spent with project Lift as gone to admin costs, mostly salaries, it has not been invested in the schools. I was hoping to hear the situation is improving at schools like WC, but he told me the results so far have not been good. It told me in order for situation to improve in these failing schools, the culture in those surrounding communities has to change first. Until then, CMS is just spending money.

Anonymous said...

@5:31: You're worried about the children of "illegals" not being vaccinated? I can assure you that yours fears are misplaced. The real danger lies with parents who claim a religious exemption from vaccination because either a) they honestly believe you can pray away measles and whooping cough, or b) they believe other morons like Jenny McCarthy (!) who insist vaccines cause autism.

THEY are the parents who not only knowingly put their child at risk of preventable disease every day, but happily risk the health and lives of other (sane) people's children as well.

Immigrant parents are generally incredibly grateful to have access to the most basic medical care for their children - the kind of compassion for the least of us which, in the Bible Belt, can be pretty hard to come by.

So no, the people mowing your lawn, fixing your roof, caring for your children, serving your lunch, and cleaning your house are not the people who will cause the inevitable return of long-forgotten epidemics to NC. Not by a longshot.

Shamash said...

"I am all for proofs of concept and support the idea of Project LIFT as a means of determining whether increased funding that addresses outside-of-school issues that children of generational have can have a significant impact on closing using the methods at CMS is testing."

I like "proof of concept", too, but I also doubt that they will be honest about this not working.

The educrats have already defined "poverty" as the problem, so the answer will always be "more money".

It's just a matter of HOW you deliver that money to the "deserving".

Some would go as far as making the US a socialist society like Denmark in order to deliver TRUE "equity" and "equal opportunity" for everyone.

(Well, more like Denmark without all those uppity white people, of course, but that's another issue...)

So, for some, it's not just about the schools and education.

It's about "equity" in EVERYTHING.

Usually involving taking money from "our" pockets into "theirs".

Shamash said...

Anon 10:25pm.

" It told me in order for situation to improve in these failing schools, the culture in those surrounding communities has to change first."

Well, that's something many of us have said for decades.

The schools AND teachers are secondary behind the students, parents, and probably peers/community as well.

Anonymous said...

@8:10...TFA's and Teach Charlotte teachers are better than real educators??? HA! In order for that to be true they would need great classroom management and know the information your teaching. They don't even have good classroom management. One thing is true, if your only teaching for 2 years and moving on, you can easily be manipulated by administrators to change grades.

Anonymous said...

@11:18-you missed the point. Why have rules if you aren't going to apply it to 20% of the population?

My question still stands-are principals "kicking" these kids out until they submit the correct forms. Somehow I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

I think your real concerns were very clear. I'm unsure, however, why you seem not at all concerned about the growing number of parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated claiming it violates their religious beliefs.

Yes, the 30-day limit is enforced. Unvaccinated children of immigrants may not return to school until they've been fully immunized - or, until, like some
white children, they present a note from their parents asserting that the family's invisible friend just hates vaccines. Feel safer now?

Shamash said...

Anon 10:36pm.

" like some
white children, they present a note from their parents asserting that the family's invisible friend just hates vaccines."

Those kids should be quarantined in a private school with others who share their beliefs.

I'd gladly support a voucher system for that.

Anonymous said...

From the heavens and stars above can we please refrain from the vaccine debates within this blog, unless Anne writes about. Shamash you are too good to sink to a new low of delving into such a debate when the topic is about Project LIFT to no where.

Anonymous said...

I think the point of vaccines was another way all are not equal in CMS one way or another.
How much can we continue to pay for illegals?

Anonymous said...

We had a teach charlotte teacher quit mid year. The research on TFA shows they are not better. Some are good and some are bad.