John Modest, a longtime North Carolina educator who spent four years trying to turn around West Charlotte High, died Thursday.
Modest, who had most recently worked as a principal in Houston, died after a long fight with lung cancer, said Nora Carr, chief of staff and interim superintendent of Guilford County Schools.
“John was so devoted to making sure that all young people, especially those whom others forgot, received the kind of education that makes their worlds bigger and their opportunities greater,” Carr said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools recruited Modest from Wake County, where he led a magnet high school, after a judge blasted CMS in 2005 for “academic genocide” at high-poverty, low-performing high schools. The West Charlotte assignment put Modest into a key role in reform efforts.
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West Charlotte, once an all-black school, gained national attention in the 1970s as a model of Charlotte’s efforts to make desegregation work. By the 21st century, it was the district’s lowest performing school and had come to symbolize what some called resegregation.
The school saw significant gains on test performance before Modest left in 2009 to become an area superintendent in Guilford County Schools, but it continues to struggle. West Charlotte and its eight feeder schools are now the focus of Project LIFT, a public-private turnaround effort. Three years into the five-year project, results have been minimal, though hopes remain high.