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'Stick' Williams explains funding effort for CMS westside schools, takes names of those who'd like to be involved

April 26, 2011

Richard "Stick" Williams made the case personal. He remembers growing up in the projects in Greensboro, attending bad schools, having little confidence in himself.

So the Charlotte-Mecklenburg project funded by family and corporate foundations, that is designed to pump $51 million into efforts at West Charlotte High and the elementaries and middle schools that feed it, has personal relevance to Williams. It does, as well, to most of the more than 40 people who listened Tuesday at the Forum to this Charlotte leader who now heads the Duke Energy Foundation and co-chairs the CMS Investment Study Group with West Charlotte High graduate Anna Spangler Nelson.

But by the end of the 90-minute session, Williams had heard from about a dozen participants who appear convinced that, unless the Study Group strikes out on very different path from the one most often taken by Charlotte do-good efforts, their voices will not be heard, and the small companies they pilot, which are providing services to children and youth in the West Charlotte corridor, will not be allowed to participate.

Williams took notes. He said he wasn't an educational expert. He said the initial group of leaders had already expressed an interest in having more community voices at the table.  He said the group's current task is to pick a staff director from about 150 applicants. Long-term, he said, it would be the director's task to advise the group on how to spend the money wisely.

In a project summary published in January and handed out by Williams Tuesday, the funders said their overall goal was to boost the high school graduation rate in the affected schools. To do that, they wrote, they would focus on teacher and principal excellence; adding school hours to the students' day and year; boosting the effective use of computers and other technology; and boosting parental support and mentoring.

But when asked at the Forum how the funders would measure their success toward the broader goal of educating the children that the community is now failing to educate, Williams didn't reply with an answer based on graduation statistics.

"I appreciate that concern," he said. "That's very important as far as me in my business is concerned. But you know I just have to be real open with you to say that that's not my expertise.

"That's part of what, as a group, working with the system and others, we create.

"But I don't want to blow any smoke at you. What I want is to be extraordinarily successful. And I want to be certain that we are not measuring for the sake of measuring, but that we know the right things that we need to measure that we go after.

"That's my commitment, but I can't tell you exactly right now what those things are. I know that might be troubling.

"But for everybody that's giving the kind of money that we're giving, outcomes are exceptionally important. That I can tell you. But we aren't the experts yet."

The exchange was troubling because the funders' focus on their own success may yield measurements that will prove their investments "successful" even while leaving the children no better educated.

QCityMetro.com coverage of Williams' presentation and other matters is here.

Williams brought copies of the study group's January 2011 project summary, which can be downloaded here.


Form Object


Use the controls above to listen to Williams' initial presentation (25:37).

Below are six video excerpts from the question-and-answer period.


Video excerpts


1. On his motivation to be involved





2. On what the funders want -- to extend to all students the "opportunity for excellence"




3. There are a variety of stakeholders, and all need to have a way to participate.





4. Director -- yet to be hired -- will cull from the applications the providers to be involved.





5. Service providers must be able to change the culture and expectations for students




6. Donated funds will go to assisting students, not creating administrative overhead.






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