Education

Anonymous gift honoring CMS desegregation pioneers fights today’s classroom bias

Dorothy Counts, center, tried to desegregate Harding High School on Sept. 4, 1957, but met hostility from white classmates and parents.
Dorothy Counts, center, tried to desegregate Harding High School on Sept. 4, 1957, but met hostility from white classmates and parents. UNC library collection

Sixty years after four black students tried to desegregate Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, an anonymous donor has given $60,000 to support the district’s ongoing work to create equal opportunity for students.

The donation to the CMS Foundation will pay for 75 teachers to take part in a year-long program to help them examine their personal beliefs and biases.

It was made in honor of four black students – Dorothy Counts, Delores Huntley, Girvaud Roberts and Gus Roberts – who enrolled in white Charlotte schools in September 1957. They met with fierce resistance, and the struggle has continued for four decades. Today dozens of schools are populated mostly by low-income students of color. Those schools tend to trail more affluent and diverse counterparts in academic opportunities and performance.

CMS has been working with the Winters Group on an in-depth program to help teachers and administrators understand cultural frameworks in education and identify better ways to connect with students from different racial, cultural or economic backgrounds. Across the country, unconscious bias has been identified as a cause of inequities ranging from disproportionate suspension of black students for minor offenses to unequal access to advanced classes.

CMS has used public money and grants to send about 2,400 of its 9,300 teachers through the year-long program. The CMS Foundation, which was recently revitalized under the leadership of former TV news anchor Sonja Gantt, is now trying to raise money to extend the program’s reach.

“In a school district where the student population is becoming increasingly diverse, it’s important that our educators have the tools, skills and self-awareness needed to create classroom environments that are welcoming for all students,” Gantt said.

She said the $60,000 donor isn’t a Charlotte native but has watched the district struggle with student assignment, race and opportunity. The cultural proficiency program costs $800 per teacher, she said.

To learn more about the foundation, visit https://cms-foundation.org or reach Gantt at sgantt@cms-foundation.org or 980-343-0084.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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