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I was shocked to read Arthur Griffin’s piece on Project LIFT

Teacher Mary Batalis reads to her class at Thomasboro Academy, a year-round Project LIFT school, in 2015.
Teacher Mary Batalis reads to her class at Thomasboro Academy, a year-round Project LIFT school, in 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

I greatly admired the work of Arthur Griffin during the time he served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. So I was shocked when I read his piece on Sunday (“Has Project LIFT been a success or failure?” June 11). I was very disappointed that a man of his stature would have so many alternative facts in his writing. I must address a few.

The one that really bowled me over was the assertion that Project LIFT was born to “soften the horrendous injustice” of the Board of Education’s 2010 creation, in Griffin’s view, of “the most economically and racially isolated series of schools since Jim Crow.” The fact is that leaders of Charlotte’s major corporate, family and community foundations came together after Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, challenged the community to do far more to address the chronic achievement gap. This group began meeting with the superintendent, school board chair and chief academic officer to determine how we might do just that. When we learned that West Charlotte High School had a 51 percent graduation rate, we began a laser-like focus on changing that. We realized that significant improvement would be sustainable only if we also focused on the schools within West Charlotte’s feeder zone. That is why Project LIFT was born.

Also, Griffin states “Project LIFT’s board is not aligned with the CMS Board of Education and its vision and mission. No CMS policymaker sits on the Project LIFT board. Project LIFT started without a seasoned leader experienced with multi-generational poverty.” The fact is that we were not willing to launch Project LIFT unless we were aligned with the Board of Education. To assure the alignment, the district’s general counsel drafted an agreement that we discussed in detail with the Board of Education, that was then unanimously approved by both boards. Superintendents Gorman, Hattabaugh, Morrison and Clark attended almost every one of the Project LIFT board meetings. Two or three school board members routinely attend our meetings. The executive director of Project LIFT is a former N.C. Teacher of the Year, was strategically staffed to serve as principal of a low-performing school, and was a zone superintendent before she agreed to lead Project LIFT. And, I lived multi-generational poverty, as did our executive director.

What community good did this article serve? My concern is that this kind of looseness with facts might make the philanthropic community reluctant to form this kind of collaboration to address major needs.

Richard “Stick” Williams is co-chair of Project LIFT and a former president of the Duke Energy Foundation.

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