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Charlotte's Executive Leadership Council brings results to CMS

For months now, top executives from health care to business are embedded in the district to help get critical programs and initiatives off the ground.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — After a slow start to several major programs at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the district accepted outside help from business executives in the Charlotte area this summer. 

For months now, top executives from Novant Health, Atrium Health, and Ally Financial are embedded in the district to help get critical programs and initiatives off the ground.

The CMS team is a part of the Charlotte Executive Leadership Council: A group of CEOs and business leaders from the Charlotte area’s leading businesses, healthcare systems, and colleges/universities. 

The team members embedded in CMS are looking to bridge the barrier between ideas to implementation. 

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The executives are not being paid by CMS, instead, their jobs are footing the bill, and lending their top talent to CMS. 

"It's truly maximizing this opportunity to make some changes and some shifts and move the district forward," LaShauna Lowry, Ally Financial executive director, said. 

Lowry was instrumental in helping push forward the district's $50 million tutoring program.

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She helped district and program leaders build a sustainable framework for the program built in response to pandemic learning loss. 

“Framework really is looking to kind of think, what type of tutoring do we want to offer to the students?" Lowry asked. "And what tutoring makes the most sense for that specific student?"

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When the CELC partnership was first announced CMS outlined key initiatives that the district identified as, "their biggest areas of need." 

They include: 

  • Retention and recruitment of teachers, administrators, and support staff
  • Increased school safety 
  • Improved access to physical and mental health services
  • Effective and sustainable tutoring programs
  • Extensive, needs-based school partnerships
  • Communication of utilization of COVID-19 federal dollars
  • Operational improvements to critical processes

These areas are all issues CMS has faced intense public scrutiny on. 

CMS Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said the group helps lead major decisions. 

"They're in cabinet meetings every day," Hattabaugh said. "So they know what our strategies are. Our strategy management team works closely with them as we're monitoring what we're talking about.” 

The executives are there as guides -- not to tell CMS staff members what to do and how to do it. 

Novant Health’s senior vice president Raki McGregor said the group wants to help the district make decisions that are smart for students.

"The frameworks that we create enhance, assist with recommendations of where they need to be placed, are done in a manner that is healthy disruption that creates the desired impact for our young people," McGregor said. 

RELATED: The interim superintendent for CMS steps down in June 2023. School leaders want input on the next permanent one

That means questioning people on how they’re rolling out key programs on things like school safety, access to mental health services, and teacher retention.

"Everybody will be pleased that it will be a structure that will be carried on," Hattabaugh said. "And especially when we start seeing success at the end of the year." 

Another key component of the group is securing partnerships with private sector businesses in the area. The group's connections have helped CMS launch a health care initiative to reduce health disparities in schools. 

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Atrium Health announced in August it received a $10 million grant from Bank of America to embed health systems in convenient locations near Title I schools. 

Starting this year, 20 elementary schools will have access to school-based virtual programs, and 10 middle and high schools will have behavioral health tele-therapy. 

The health provider has promised to expand these services to 81 CMS schools within three years. 

"There are a number of things within CMS that don't get to be brought or made aware to the broader community that are phenomenal impacts that are being made," McGregor said. "My ask would be how do we lean into being a part of the solution?" 

The group is with CMS for at least another year. 

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.  

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