Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said the district has not seen the achievement gains it had hoped for at Project LIFT schools.
Since 2011, more than $100 million in public and private funds has been pumped into 10 predominately low-income west Charlotte schools to improve them academically.
In a presentation before a joint state legislative education committee, Wilcox said the Project LIFT program has had some successes but still faces a lot of challenges.
When Project LIFT started, West Charlotte High School and its feeder schools were not performing as well as other schools in the district. The plan was to implement new teaching strategies and give the Project LIFT schools more resources. Calendars shifted—some schools added days to the school year and four schools went to a year-round calendar. The program gave students access to technology at home and at school, something many did not have in the past.
A goal of a 90 percent graduation rate was set for West Charlotte High School. In 2011, the school had a 52 percent graduation rate. Wilcox said the rate is now 88 percent.
A target of a 90 percent proficiency rate in math and reading was set for all Project LIFT schools. Although those schools are meeting state growth requirements, about 50 percent of the students are still not proficient in those subjects.
“What we thought when this project began was that we were going to simply be able to change the learning outcomes for kids quickly," Wilcox said. "We found the work is much more complex and it’s not going to be solved by simply putting dollars in it - although dollars are a necessary component of it."
Wilcox said another challenge that Project LIFT faces is that students within the program move a lot. Last year, only 30 percent of Project LIFT eighth graders continued on to West Charlotte High School - showing that most students aren't continuing in the program.
“Most challenging to LIFT is that [students] are going to our magnet programs," Wilcox said. "They’re going to our choice program and they are not staying in the program where they began."
New students take their place, but they don't have the benefit of the whole Project LIFT experience - which includes more personalized and innovative instruction, free computers and counseling. For some, it also includes year-round school.
In his presentation, Wilcox also noted positive aspects of the program. When Project LIFT started, it was hard to attract teachers. Now, Wilcox said, the schools are fully staffed and retention rates rose by 8 percent last year. West Charlotte parents are also becoming more involved and the number of student suspensions is declining, according to Wilcox.