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

Good, Bad News In Project LIFT Results

Gwendolyn Glenn
Project Lift Superintendent Denise Watts talks to principals and others about this year's graduation and achievement results at Project Lift schools

Some ambitious goals were set five years ago to help nine struggling schools in west Charlotte. An initiative called Project LIFT was launched. Project LIFT received $55 million in private money to improve the struggling West Charlotte High School and its eight ailing elementary and middle feeder schools.

The goal for West Charlotte High School was a 90 percent graduation rate. A goal for all Project LIFT schools was to reach 90 percent proficiency in math, reading and science. While the graduation rate is nearly achieved, only about 50 percent of students have met the proficiency goal.

West Charlotte went from a graduation rate of 54 percent in 2012 to 86 percent last year. All of the schools, except one met the state’s growth requirements, but achievement rates are still well below most CMS schools.

Denise Watts, Project LIFT’s superintendent said, “We’re making strides toward the big break through but we acknowledge all of our challenges and that we are far from 90 percent, but we will get there.”

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn

One challenge is holding on to the students in the Project LIFT program.

“We have a leaky feeder pattern. Only about 30 percent of the kids who leave 8th grade matriculate up to West Charlotte, so that makes the work complicated because students aren’t able to get the full dosage of Project Lift intervention over time,” Watts said.

A major push this year, she said, doesn’t involve academics. It’s an initiative to get more parents and others in the community involved with the Project LIFT schools.

“We need to bring in the family and community so they understand our schools and get beyond the myths and they can support in a way that’s good for the kids, so my community engagement team will be the team to get us through and to our goals for Project Lift,” Watts said.

As for instruction, Project LIFT Executive Director Chris Triolo says they are refining and tweaking the curriculum and rolled out a new math series.

"That’s starting this year and all of our teachers and administrators trained over the summer so we started with our K-8 classrooms this year and this is our second year for the literacy curriculum in all our K8 classrooms and we’re beginning a literacy initiative at West Charlotte this year,” Triolo said.

There’s also a plan to help parents remove barriers that may keep them from being involved with Project LIFT schools.

“We will work especially with the least engaged parents who come to us more often disenfranchised but when you dig into their situations there are often distractions in the home and what we look to do is give those parents access to resources need to clear some of those barriers so their children can be more focused and they can be more engaged in our schools,” Watts said.

Project LIFT has a partnership with Crisis Ministry to provide free financial counseling to parents and has a team to direct them to job, educational and social services opportunities. No one expects immediate results, but like achievement gains, it takes time.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.