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An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

Strategy Of CMS' Project LIFT Turned On Head

Lisa Worf
Project LIFT includes West Charlotte High School and all the elementary, middle, and k-8 schools that feed into it.

Project LIFT leaders heard a lot of numbers Wednesday about the nine, struggling CMS schools in west Charlotte they’re trying to improve. Test scores are nowhere near the goal they set for this time three years ago. But another number came up too, and it turned the whole strategy of Project LIFT on its head.  

The number is 50, as in 50 percent. Here’s a little more context:

“About 50-percent of students who had started in Project LIFT in year one had gone to other schools.”

 That’s what Daniel Long with Research for Action told Project LIFT board members yesterday. Project LIFT, a public-private partnership includes West Charlotte high school and all the elementary, middle, and K-8 schools that feed into it. He says they left because their families moved out of the school zones out of
necessity or choice, or they switched to magnets or charters. And the schools gained just as many new students.  Even Denise Watts, Project LIFT’s superintendent is surprised at the amount of churn.    

 “It was phenomenal, I couldn’t even believe how many kids leave and how as a teacher you’re supposed to corral that,” Watts says.  

All this moving in and out makes it difficult to compare students year to year and see what efforts Project Lift’s $28 million has paid for so far are working. That’s already a huge challenge.

“It’s such a mixed bag,” Watts says.  “I mean you can find lots of evidence of momentum and progress and there are things that are quite frankly cause for pause.”  

Project LIFT schools have made slight gains in some subjects, but they still largely fall below scores at other
struggling CMS schools. Out of school suspensions initially declined, but then bumped up some last year.

Project LIFT’s board assumed it would be able to follow most students as they went from elementary school, to middle school, to high school. Project LIFT co-chair Anna Spangler Nelson said the board now realizes that assumption was wrong.

“If we had known that almost two-thirds of our private dollars would be bled out and diluted out as opposed to kept in the zone, I just don’t think we would’ve done it,” Nelson says.

Still Project LIFT leaders said they were as dedicated as ever and the CMS board members in the room
nodded.  They find promise in West Charlotte’s graduation rate.  Last year it was 77 percent, 21 points higher than in 2012. And the increasing number of 9th graders who are on track to graduate.