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Forum presider Sarah Stevenson is flanked by newly appointed West Charlotte High School Principal Shelton Jefferies, left, and Curtis Carroll, CMS assistant superintendent for the Achievement Zone, during the July 21, 2009 Forum.

West Charlotte principal introduces himself



July 21, 2009

Below is a transcript of the comments of Shelton Jefferies at the July 21 Forum. CMS Supt. Peter Gorman named Jefferies June 9 to succeed John Modest as principal at West Charotte High School.


"Good Morning,

"Mr. Carroll referenced the beginning of my work with him as executive director here in the Achievement Zone, and it is perhaps the truest form of activism that I've been fortunate to participate in. The work in our schools is absolutely missionary work -- in all of our schools, but particularly in the Achievement Zone.

"When you talk about bringing together schools who have combined challenges, who have significant deficits, as it relates to the teacher force, as it relates to leadership in those schools.

"We had data to back that up, that we needed to give particular attention these schools. In working with Mr. Carroll toward that end, I gained a tremendous respect for West Charlotte High School.

"For the past two years I've been working to support the work at West Charlotte under the leadership of Mr. Modest, and felt that I was pretty informed on what was going on at the school, and what the school represented to the community. [But] I did not have a clue until I was appointed as the principal at West Charlotte.

"My first introduction was meeting with a panel of about 20 to 25 students at West Charlotte. We were conducting the principal search. I was part of that committee, with Mr. Carroll, and the school had canvassed a representative sample of 20 to 25 ninth- through 12th-graders.

"So we, Mr. Carroll go to visit with the students. Mr. Carroll and I always had this game where we go into high schools and we determine our class rank depending on, if we were students at this school, where would we fall? Sometimes he'd be the valedictorian and sometimes I'd be the valedictorian.

"But we sat down with THESE students and we had to rethink ourselves. We said we probably wouldn't get admitted to West Charlotte. They were such high-caliber students. We were blown away by their commitment and their passion about the success of their school.

"These students were adamant that they wanted a leader who benefitted from having multiple layers of leaders in the school. We're talking about student leaders, teacher leaders, and those that are designated as leaders on the leadership team. That is West Charlotte.

"My second induction to West Charlotte was moving in the community. There have been so many people who have been impacted or who have had families that are impacted and are in some way connected to the success of West Charlotte. So I assume the mantle of leading West Charlotte with the full understanding that I am leading a community of leaders. That means that you have to be reflective and you have to be open that 'I don't know it all.' I think I'm positioned greatly being that I come from elementary and I'm not expected to know it all. So I think I have a natural set-up where I'm going to get a chance to tap into a lot of those leaders.

"But there are a couple of things that I do know well.

"I do know that education, public education in this country represents the best last chance for many of our students. It represents THE best, last chance for our nation. I promote the argument that this country was built on the strength of our public education system. And I think some of the dynamics of recent occurrences are bearing that out.

"I'm concerned that there's a gap, an ever-widening gap, between the haves and have-nots in this country. And I don't view haves as monetary wealth. I don't view haves as those who accumulate things. I view haves as those who can access information versus those who cannot. The history of this country has borne out that if you are literate, meaning you can access information, you can learn and unlearn, you can carve out a reasonable living for yourself. In the past, that didn't necessarily mean high school graduation. There were a wealth of industries that could support you; if you had marketable skills, you could carve out a nice living for yourself, in the textile industry, doing manual labor, doing a skilled trade. Well, we've seen those industries disappear, so that means that gap has gotten more pronounced, and it's turned into an abyss.

"If our children aren't taught to be critical thinkers -- that means they have to be able to access information and discern what's fact and what's fiction -- everything they receive on the Internet is not fact -- if we don't teach them to be critical thinkers we do them a disservice.

"Now, let's talk about the digital divide. There are some who don't have access to a computer in the home. There are some to the information that they need to become critical thinkers. The role of public schools is more pivotal than it has ever been in the history of this country.

"Public schools are definitely under fire, and we should be. I don't think you'll find an educator that doesn't welcome accountabililty. We feel we should be held accountable: You're trusting us with your most precious resources -- your children and your tax dollars. The stakes don't get any higher than that.

"But I want you to think about, we can't do this work alone. And that was probably my third induction to West Charlotte. There's been such an outpouring of support, and people who let me know that they are committed to my success and the success of our school, because they know that that will, in turn, equate to the success of our students.

"This generation of students faces the most difficult point in history. We often talk about global competitiveness, and I think we pay it lip service. They are truly competing against the world. And if you look at where there have been significant advances in culture, there have been equal advances in education in those societies. When Japan lost the world war, they were decimated, and people thought, they had written them off for dead. They made significant advances in their educational system and they brought a civilization back to life. When Nazi Germany came to prevalence, one of the first attacks they made was on literature and culture, controlling people's minds. If we make sure that all of our students have access to the information and to the tools, technological tools that they'll need to build themselves for that race in the future, we're going to thrive as a country.

"And what we see now is we cannot disassociate ourselves from the at-risk students in this country. We are directly linked. We're inextricably linked. Wherever you see we have struggling components of our culture, those, the haves, bear the brunt of that. If we have people who can't carve out a living for themselves, can't make it above the poverty level, we pay for that. So we have a vested interest in ensuring that yes, I am my brother and my sister's keeper. I have to ensure that our public education system is strong enough to support all children, so that all children can carve out a positive future for themselves -- whatever they think that might be.

"My motives are very selfish, very selfish. I'm a father of two. I have a son and a daughter. I'm a surrogate father to my two younger sisters. Our mother passed four years ago; I've assumed guardianship of them since that time. I want to ensure that the schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg are the best they can possibly be, because it has a direct impact on my loved ones.

"And I know we're doing the work that needs to be done because I get to see the benefits every night in my home....

"I come from Northern New Jersey, was born to a single mother, had me when she was 17 years old. And by all statistics, I came up at a time, in a very impoverished neighborhood, there were quite a few criminal avenues to try to put money in my pocket. But I sit here today because educators took a vested interest in me and stripped me of every excuse that I could possibly imagine, and said, if you make it or if you fail it boils down to one person. That's the person you see in the mirror every day.

"I promote to you I am no different than my peers who did not heed that message. The only difference is I took advantage of the access I was granted. And that is the pivotal battle that is being waged in all of our school systems today.

"As the principal of West Charlotte High School I'm committed to making sure that all of our students have access to those courses that are going to open up a doorway when they move beyond the walls of the school.

"Mr. Carroll, my work is not raising end-of-course scores. That might come as a shock to you (laughter). My work is to prepare students for quality life and a quality citizenship. I want every child that I interact with to live above the poverty level. I want them to live significantly above the poverty level. I want them to be able to afford all of their needs AND their wants and to prepare their children for success.

"And that's the second reason why I am very selfish. The students that we lose in public schools -- Mr. Carroll referenced a 68% increase in our composite scores, that is to be commended, that is to be commended. But what about that 32%? If I told you a third of this room was going to have four flats when they walked out of this door, you'd be very concerned if you were a part of that third, would you not? Two thirds are going to be relieved, but one-third of this room is going to have four flat tires when they leave. That's a cause for concern.

"One-third of our students in the Achievement Zone high schools are not gaining the skills that they need to survive, just to survive. So there's a probability that they may pursue illegal means. There's a probability that they may have to have multiple jobs that still don't allow them to escape the poverty level. So the primary issue is that their options become limited.

"The older of my sisters is starting at Wake Forest University in the fall. And they have a robust orientation program for the freshmen, and we've been to several classes as a part of some of those orientations. In the first one I sat down and I was a little intimidated. We sit in a business administration class and these kids are really, really bringin' it. And I looked over at my sister and I said, you know, are you ready for this? Have we made the right decision? She was relaxed as she could be. She said this has nothing on my theory of knowledge class.

"CMS is doing the job. They are doing the job. We need your help. The challenge is sometimes we don't know what form that help will take. It is incumbent on the leaders of the school to guide all the resources we get in alignment with our mission. And our core mission is educating every child that walks through our door. In some schools that will take the form of mentorship. In some schools that will take the form of you guiding our PTSA leadership body. That may take the form of you volunteering to connect with one teacher to say you have support -- I appreciate the work that you are doing. It can take multiple forms. There is no silver bullet.

"The one truism is: Schools that have that support miraculously are succeeding with their students. Schools that do not, conversely, are struggling.

"I'm a firm believer where you have strong parental support in the home, you have strong academic achievement. Now, some of our students aren't afforded that luxury. Does that mean that they're doomed to a fate of failure? Absolutely not. It's our job to make sure that we support them and provide whatever deficits they have. But our ultimate goal is to impact every child that walks through the door. And that's the work of West Charlotte High School. That's the work of the Achievement Zone, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to some of our stakeholders that are going to help me in that work. Thank you (applause)."

Jefferies' resume is here on the CMS website.






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