As one of the founding board members of the Charleston Promise Neighborhood (CPN), I am happy to celebrate the five- year anniversary of this critically important organization.
In my “daytime job” as CEO of The InterTech Group, I encounter challenging problems almost every day. However, the complex issues we face when we set out to educate all of the children in our community to a level of excellence is equal to, or surpasses, any of the hurdles I face in my businesses.
And that is precisely why I agreed to serve on the Charleston Promise Neighborhood board five years ago and why I remain an active and contributing member to this day.
Long before my husband and I achieved corporate success, I spent my workdays as a classroom teacher. I vividly remember that some students arrived at kindergarten prepared for academic success and others, sadly, did not. More often than not, children who lived in economically challenged homes and under-resourced neighborhoods entered school already behind their more affluent peers.
All too often, I met children who were not school-ready. Their lack of language and numeracy skills told me no one had worked with them at home. In some cases, they had medical or vision problems that had gone undetected, and in other cases, the family had trouble maintaining a stable home and adequate food.
In impoverished families, there are few resources to buy books, take trips, experience the arts, explore careers outside the immediate neighborhood environment and provide children with extra tutoring and academic support if they need it. We see this in the Lowcountry, and it is our responsibility to level the playing field.
Charleston Promise Neighborhood is a public-private partnership that works to overcome the serious impact of poverty on school achievement. CPN’s focus is to close the achievement gap in the “Neck” of Charleston by providing opportunities and supports to high poverty students in our neighborhood. The “achievement gap” refers to the observed, persistent disparity of educational measures between the performance of groups of students, especially groups defined by socioeconomic status.
The idea of CPN took root in 2009 when former Charleston County School District Superintendent Dr. Nancy J. McGinley teamed up with Mayor Joe Riley to try to replicate the work that was done by the Harlem Children’s Zone. As a former principal in high-poverty schools in Philadelphia, McGinley had first-hand experience with the daunting effects of poverty on student success. As superintendent, she witnessed the same patterns in Charleston. And when public dollars would not go far enough to bring extra support to the schools in low-resource communities, she reached out for help to the broader community.
Fortunately, in addition to myself, key business leaders like Bill Hewitt, John Barter, Dorothy Harrison, Ted Legasey, Carlisle Harrison, Paul Kohlheim, Cathy Marino and others have stepped in with private contributions to make the Charleston Promise Neighborhood a reality. Local corporations such as Boeing, MUSC, BlueCross BlueShield, Ingevity (MeadWestvaco), Roper and the State Ports Authority have also made CPN a top giving priority.
Due to the wisdom of founding board chair Hewitt, the four public agencies (City of Charleston, City of North Charleston, Charleston County School District and Charleston County) were originally asked to commit three years of public funds to demonstrate a financial commitment. Public-sector leaders, including then Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, Riley and McGinley were active founding board members and continue to be represented. Their support is unwavering although public dollars are harder and harder to secure each year. Residents and community stakeholders’ voices are well represented by Mike Mason and Eric Jackson, who serve on the board and actively solicit community input and involvement and ownership.
As CPN turns five, we are proud of its accomplishments. There are many initiatives we have launched to help children succeed in school. These include school-based health clinics, enhanced professional support for teachers, extended day programs in three schools, summer programs, youth leadership development programs and parent engagement initiatives. All of these programs require additional funding. They directly impact the students in the four CPN schools (Chicora, James Simons, Mary Ford and Sanders-Clyde) and they would not exist if it were not for CPN.
While we have done a great deal in five short years, we need to do even more if we truly want to accelerate progress and level the playing field for all children. In particular, in addition to providing support for children and families “outside” the classroom setting, we must work even more closely with our partners in the school district to considerably strengthen what happens to enable learning “inside” the classroom. Doing that effectively will require broad community-wide support — more people who want to help and get involved to change the future.
If you want to help change lives and make our community a better place to live and work, please support the Charleston Promise Neighborhood by adding your voice to the chorus calling for excellent educational opportunity for all children, advocating for continued public funding, volunteering at a CPN school, or making a financial contribution to CPN.
If you do, five years from now we will really have something to celebrate!
Anita Zucker is CEO of The InterTech Group.