Basketball legend Michael Jordan underscored his newly renamed team’s philanthropic commitment to Charlotte on Monday by launching a Charlotte Hornets Teacher Innovation Fund that will provide money for teachers to try new classroom strategies.
The Hornets are kicking off the fund with a $250,000 grant, including dollars provided by Lowe’s and Fox Sports Carolinas/SportsSouth. Jordan said he intends to use his name and the team’s popularity to attract other corporate donors to further build the fund.
Team officials said their intent is to provide $70,000 a year in grants to local teachers for use in innovative approaches to teaching. Grants will range from $1,000 to $5,000 per teacher, depending on their needs.
“This is just the start,” Jordan said Monday. “I think once people understand what we’re doing and the impact of it, I’m pretty sure we’ll get other people to join this fight. If you want to have an impact on tomorrow, you must start by helping teachers.”
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The Teacher Innovation Fund was unveiled during a publicity event at Hornets Nest Elementary for the renaming of the team’s philanthropic arm to the Charlotte Hornets Foundation. It was perhaps the last official step in the franchise’s transition from the Charlotte Bobcats to the Charlotte Hornets.
During a gathering of students at Hornets Nest, Jordan revealed that the first two teachers receiving grants from his new fund are at the school, Sarah Norris and Michelle Fox-Massey. Each got $5,000.
Fox-Massey, who teaches third grade, said her intent is to build an iPad library so students can check out the tablets to take home for schoolwork. Many of the students are from families that don’t have the money to spare for such technology, she said.
She hugged Jordan and broke into a brief dance after being called to the stage.
“I thought I was going to pass out when they called my name,” said Fox-Massey, who is in her seventh year at Hornets Nest Elementary. “He is an icon. My husband and I have a poster of him on the wall at home.”
Kim Henderson, Charlotte Hornets Foundation executive director, said the Teacher Innovation Fund was created in reaction to the ongoing concerns over low teacher salaries in North Carolina. A new national tally of average teacher salaries shows North Carolina at 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget calls for 2 percent raises for most teachers and larger bumps for those in the early years of their career.
The Senate plan provides bigger raises for teachers willing to sign away tenure but would pay for those raises with cuts to teacher assistants, transportation and central offices.
“We all know the struggles with teacher compensation and challenges the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are facing,” Henderson said. “We (the Hornets) can’t do anything about the actual compensation for teachers, but we can give them the tools and resources they need in the classroom.”
Jordan used the occasion Monday to make his first public comments on the positive community reaction to his choice to retake the name the city’s first pro basketball team had when it debuted in Charlotte in 1988. The original Hornets moved in 2002 to New Orleans and were replaced by the Bobcats in 2004.
“It lets me know that we did the right thing,” said Jordan. “I think the name is something the community considered itself owning. Support for the team was unparalleled when they first moved to Charlotte, and I think (the city) felt like they got robbed when the team moved. Now we’re giving them the name back, and we hope they again feel that connection.”
He added that the biggest challenge now is to build a team “that the city can be proud of, and I think we’re on the verge of doing that.”
The team’s Day of Service on Monday also featured individual thank-you kits for the district’s nearly 9,000 teachers. In addition, volunteers from Lowe’s, Fox Sports Carolinas/SportsSouth and the Hornets made campus improvements at Hornets Nest Elementary.
Jordan delivered some of the thank-you kits himself to teachers. Included were personalized thank-you cards from the team, as well as water tumblers and Hornets keepsakes.
“I never take the hugs for granted,” he said. “It’s inspirational. It’s easy to lose your focus on the community, and it’s good to have that reminder that what you’re doing matters.”