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New Impact Fund to help change schools’ trajectory

Want to help?

To make a donation, checks may be made payable to the Foundation for the Carolinas, with #2536 Rowan-Salisbury Schools Impact Fund on the check. Mail to the foundation at 220 N. Tryon St., Charlotte, N.C. 28202.

To make a gift of stock or other assets, contact:

Meg Dees

Vice president, philanthropic advancement and manager, affiliate development

Foundation for the Carolinas

Cell: 704-224-8840

Email: mdees@fftc.org

Donations also may be made by credit card online on a website that will be set up soon.


Tippie Miller is starting — has started — a movement.

A former teacher, the mother of a teacher, and a tried-and-true public education supporter herself, Miller wants to raise awareness of the challenges facing Rowan-Salisbury schools and help bring about dramatic change.

“The future of our community is in the school system,” Miller says.

Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody outlined the challenges on Tuesday morning to a group of community leaders Miller brought together to hear about a new Rowan-Salisbury Schools Impact Fund.

The guests sipped coffee in the Gateway Building conference room as Miller, Moody and others asked for community support to bring about what is beginning to feel like a revolution.

The Impact Fund will use donations to help fund initiatives that go beyond what tax funds are available to do. But Miller and her committee are leading a drive for more than money. They want to raise support for teachers and pride in the local school system.

The aim, RSS Impact Fund board member Jason Walser said later, is to “energize the public support for public education that I truly believe is out there but hasn’t had a voice or a face in a long time.”

Rowan-Salisbury schools have been on a downward trajectory for the past five to 10 years, Moody told the community leaders. Two key factors are:

• Academic performance: Only 45 percent of students scored at grade level in the most recent round of testing — 10 percentage points below the state average

• Poverty: Some 63 percent of Rowan-Salisbury’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch. During the recession, the poverty rate rose more in Rowan and Salisbury than in most communities.

And the schools have seen the usual cause and effect: As poverty increases, academic performance decreases, Moody said. But that can’t be allowed to go on.

“While we can’t do anything about our poverty rate, we can do a lot about our academic performance,” Moody said, “and change this trajectory.”

The system is going against the odds that come with poverty.  Steps taken so far include raising expectations, adopting a new literacy framework, professional development and the digital conversion that put iPads and laptops in students’ hands.

Before announcing the Impact Fund, Moody got a request from Salisbury philanthropist Fred Stanback. Make a wish list, he said— not what’s needed, but what Moody would wish for beyond the schools’ basic needs.

“Wish” may be too frivolous. What Moody put together was a document listing 16 initiatives that could spur the kind of dramatic change she believes the school system needs. The list was handed out at the Impact Fund meeting.

The initiatives  range from management system software that costs $5.50 per student to a community school with an estimated cost of $55 million. (See related story.)

To fulfill one of those wishes, Stanback is putting up $300,000 to enable 20 science and math teachers to earn a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) masters degree at Catawba College, tuition-free. The goal is to recruit and retain science and math teachers; the system has had vacant teaching positions all year in those fields.

“I think public schools have been a vital part of the American success story,” Stanback said Friday.

“North Carolina and Rowan County have not supported public education adequately in recent years,  and I wanted to help with vacancies in the teaching staff. I hope the masters program will help both the school system and Catawba.”

Two other items on the list have also been funded.

• Teacher recruitment weekend: Stanback also is funding a special weekend — complete with hotel, food and trolley tour — for prospective science, math and exceptional children’s teachers. A $1,000 signing bonus is included. Total cost, $39,000.

• Literacy leadership visit: Also fulfilled already is a two-day visit to a high-achieving elementary school in Washington, D.C., for 20 teachers and five district leaders, at a cost of $20,250.

Other items remaining on the list:

• Discovery Education TechBooks, $45-55 per student for a six-year period.

• Model teacher classroom visits to high-performing schools to obseve best practices,  $105.50 per teacher, or $139,576.50 for all 1,323 teachers.

• Attendance at the International Society for Technology  in  Education Conference in Philadelphia (via school bus), $63,000.

• Visits by school-based teams of principals, teachers and district leaders to model STEM middle schools , $33,600.

• School-based team visits to high-diversity turnaround high schools, $33,600.

• A grant writer position, $60,000.

• A Discovery Education coach to work with Overton, Isenberg, Koontz, Knox and Salisbury High schools on STEM projects, $75,000.

• Two-day principals’ retreat, $10,000.

• Rachel’s Challenge anti-bullying program for seven middle and seven high schools, $168,000. (Three schools have already raised funds.)

• Participation of 248 teachers in a three-day Problem Based Learning Institute workshop, $124,000.

• Furniture for new district office, $500,000.

The Impact Fund has been set up in partnership with the Salisbury Community Foundation, an affiliate of Foundation for the Carolinas. Checks should be made out to the Foundation for the Carolinas, with #2536 Rowan Salisbury Schools Impact Fund included.

Donations also may be made by credit card online on a website that will be set up soon.

Moody said rather than start a foundation, which people think of as an endowed fund, the Impact Fund is a public fund. “The money can be used immediately,” she said.

The Rock Hill, S.C., school system from which Moody came in 2013 had a longstanding foundation to support teacher mini-grants and other projects.

Moody approached Miller about heading up something similar in the Impact Fund.

Miller hesitated. She has led several successful fund drives for major community projects — the Glenn A. Kiser Hospice House and Rowan Helping Ministries’ new building most recently. Miller was afraid that people would run away when they saw her coming, fearing she would ask for money again.

Despite her real concern about the local public schools and the future of Rowan County, she thought it might be time for someone else to lead the charge.

The tipping point — Tippie point? — came when she heard the county’s chief industrial recruiter, Robert Van Geons, express doubts about sending his children to a Rowan-Salisbury public school. That got her fired up.

Miller got fired up all over again relaying that story to the group at Tuesday’s meeting. And she didn’t mind saying so with Van Geons standing in the back of the room.

Nor did she mind pointing out that a certain college president’s children go to private schools — with Catawba President Brien Lewis in the room.

Nor did she mind implying that placing an ad in the Salisbury Post to thank teachers was too expensive.

You don’t make an impact by mincing words. And her frank talk appeared to have an impact on her audience of business people, agency heads and elected leaders.

Miller is not alone in working to rev up the Impact Fund. In addition to Walser, members of the fund’s board are Leah Campion, a parent and volunteer; and Dr. Alan King a retired educator and administrator and now part owner of Creative Teaching Aids. Others may be added.

Walser said the board wants to supplement and enhance the work of the school board and county commission.

Greg Edds, chairman of the county commission, was among those hearing Tuesday’s presentation and came away feeling positive about it.

“Our citizens are amazing givers,” Edds said in an email on Friday, “and I think the Impact Fund is a great way for the concerned public to make an instant, significant impact on what must be considered a long-term challenge.”

Everyone needs to commit to a greater effort to help improve schools — parents, educators and commissioners, Edds said.

“Our commissioners need to be vocal partners of our educators and their mission and work to provide the resources necessary to give them the tools they need to turn things around,” he said.

As Miller pushes the Impact Fund forward, she could have in mind future county commissioners and mayors and bankers and college presidents, not to mention taxpayers and voters, mothers and fathers.

“An investment in our school system, is an investment in the future of our community,” Miller said. “Our leaders of tomorrow are walking the halls of our schools today!”

Note: Miller said she tried to avoid inviting a quorum of any board, but six members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education attended without giving public notice: Chairman Josh Wagner, Susan Cox, Jean Kennedy, Travis Allen, Dean Hunter and Richard Miller.



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