Education Week - January 16, 2013 - (Page 12)

12 EDUCATION WEEK n JANUARY 16, 2013 n FOCUS ON: PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS Funders and N.C. District Team Up to Run Schools Project LIFT targets nine city schools By Jaclyn Zubrzycki Photos by John W. Adkisson for Education Week An unusual public-private school improvement partnership in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school system is raising hopes about its potential for improving the lives of some of Charlotte’s neediest students even as it generates concerns about its nontraditional funding and governance structure. Project Leadership and Investment for Transformation, or Project lift, is a $55 million investment from corporate and family foundations aimed at improving the academic outcomes for a cluster of public schools in west Charlotte that serve some of the city’s most disadvantaged students. The goal is to provide resources and boost the academic performance of the 7,400 students at West Charlotte High School and the eight schools that feed into it. Project lift, which is led by a foundation-sponsored area superintendent who reports to both the private foundations and the chief academic officer of the 141,000-student Charlotte-Mecklenburg public school district, was officially launched in 2011 and entered into a formal agreement with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board in early 2012. Its schools are in their first year of implementation. More than 22 organizations have partnered with Project lift, whose 13-member governing board funnels its donations into the Foundation for the Carolinas, a community foundation based in Charlotte. Imitating Charters The project’s governance arrangement is unique in the United States, but is part of a trend toward public-private partnership that has arisen partly due to school districts’ budget constraints, said Janelle Scott, a professor of education and African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “Foundations want to help school districts to take risks they otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” she said. But some are concerned by the role the funders will play in making educational decisions and worry whether the changes funded with outside money will be sustainable. Many of the project’s strategies for improving student performance, like an extended school day and year and increased hiring autonomy for principals, are more common in public charter schools, said Ann Clark, the chief academic officer of the CharlotteMecklenburg school system, but Project lift schools are still con- FROM TOP: Students listen intently during a math class at Ashley Park Elementary School in Charlotte, N.C., one of the schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district participating in Project LIFT. Fourth and 5th grade students at Ashley Park use an interactive whiteboard during a reading and literacy exercise. Corporate and local funders are investing $55 million to make improvements at Ashley Park and eight other schools in west Charlotte. sidered to be part of the traditional public school system. One of Project lift’s goals is to show that “this can be done within the public school structure,” said Ms. Clark. The project began as a collaboration between the Leon Levine Foundation and the C.D. Spangler Foundation, both based in Charlotte, and soon expanded to include five other local and national foundations. The participating foundations had been involved in education before, but were frustrated by the “persistent achievement gap” and wondered if they could have a greater impact by working together, said Stick Williams, the president of the Duke Energy Foundation and co-chair of the Project lift board. Inspired by Geoffrey Canada’s work in New York City’s Harlem community, the group decided to focus on just one group of highneeds schools in west Charlotte. The initiative focused on four interventions: time (extended school days and years), talent (targeted teacher-recruitment and -retention efforts), technology (including a 1-to-1 laptop program), and parental and community investment. The governance board also has a legislative agenda, and has already successfully obtained an exemption from a state law regulating school start and end dates. When the effort was announced in January 2011, $40.5 million had been promised, but the board decided that the project would not launch unless it hit a target of $55 million. More than $57 million has been raised so far, and the project currently has partners providing in-kind services that include tutoring and health services. Balance of Power Negotiating the balance of power has been a task: The superintendent of the Project lift zone, Denise Watts, reports directly to and is paid by the Project lift board, but also reports to the district’s chief academic officer and supervises the principals in the zone. That arrangement was only arrived at after some negotiation, as Ms. Watts’ position initially reported only to the Project lift board. Feeling that she had “influence but no power” over the schools in the project, Ms. Watts advocated for moving her position into the district so that principals in Project lift schools reported to her. Project l i f t also pays the salaries of an executive direc- tor focused on evaluation and a human resources specialist, but all other staff members are still paid through and report through the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. Moving Ms. Watts’ position into the school district streamlined operations, said Ms. Clark. But, she said, “it’s worth acknowledging that the Project lift board still has the key lever” and determines how its funds are spent. Ms. Watts, who has been working in the Charlotte schools since 2000, said that balancing the commitments is a juggling act. Four Pillars In this first school year, “talent is the number-one priority,” Ms. Watts said. Project lift principals were able to remove teachers they did not believe were mission-aligned, and offered signing, performance, and retention bonuses for others. Ms. Watts said that the zone had typically started the school year with close to 100 vacancies, but this year there were only five. Only the high school has a new principal, Ms. Watts said, but all of the principals have been receiving new leadership training at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, through Project lift. Tonya Kales, a principal at Ashley Park, a pre-K-8 school in the zone, said the training and the hiring autonomy had provided her with support and allowed her to build the school culture she wanted to create: “There’s power in being in a room with people who are all mission-aligned.” The initiative’s focus on tech-

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 16, 2013

Education Week - January 16, 2013
Is Education Facing a ‘Tech Bubble’?
Multiple Gauges Best for Teachers
Model Common-Core Unit Piloted for ELL Teachers
Gun Concerns Personal for Duncan
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Fla. Data Link Suspension To Lower Graduation Rates
Anti-Poverty Program Found To Fall Short In Studies
New Science-Standards Draft Incorporates Feedback
With Common Core in Mind, Schools Turn to E-Rate
Survey Tool Aims for Fresh Eye On Parents
Study Dissects Gender Effects In Math Teaching
Funders and N.C. District Team Up To Run Schools
Blogs of the Week
State of the States
N.Y.’s Cuomo Moves Ahead On K-12 Ideas
Crush of Ed. Laws Awaiting Renewal In Congress
Fiscal Realities Dog States
Policy Brief
R. BARKER BAUSELL: Putting Value-Added Evaluation To the (Scientific) Test
GARY HUGGINS: It’s Time for Summer Learning
JEFF CAMP: Let’s Remove Self-Righteousness From the K-12 Debate
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
MIKE ROSE: Giving Cognition a Bad Name

Education Week - January 16, 2013