Gates Foundation US Program Chief of Staff Dawn Chirwa further set the stage, citing the organization’s domestic focus has been on education issues — including a special emphasis in Memphis to “ensure that we have a quality education system for all of our students, and in particular, our black and brown students who are being left behind in many parts of the system.â€
She says that improving schools are so vital because “economists have projected that by 2020, which is only eight years away, US companies will have jobs for 123 million highly-skilled workers. Meaning [opportunities for] those with a solid education, not just those who are proficient in math and science, but those who are able to think critically and independently. But at the current course that our education system is heading, we’ll only produce 50 million people capable of filling those jobs, while over 150 million Americans will compete for 44 million low-skilled jobs. That means vastly diminished prospects, particularly for our black and brown youth…if we don’t do something now.â€
That sense of urgency was infused in all of the presentations including comments from Rahim Islam, president of Philadelphia-based Universal Companies (launched by the legendary founder of Philadelphia International Records Kenneth Gamble).Â Islam told the crowd that they must take a holistic approach to solving the problem of under-performing schools since crime, staggeringly high incarceration rates and dysfunctional families have a deleterious effect on community schools. Universal has renovated 1,500 homes, rebuilt three neighborhoods, put 500 people to work and manage six charter schools. “We must put in place a program to educate our own,â€ says Islam, “that’s comprehensive and scalable.â€
To develop the planks for a business-oriented platform to rescue our schools, BLACK ENTERPRISE/Gates Foundation developed two panels to identify solutions. The first, “Helping Our Schools,â€ focused on initiatives to improve educational institutions. The session was moderated by Editorial Director Alan Hughes and included panelists Irvin Scott, deputy director of education for the Gates Foundation; Kenya Bradshaw, executive director of Stand for Children, Memphis, an education advocacy group; and Afernee “Pennyâ€ Hardaway, retired NBA legend and co-owner of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball franchise.Â The second was a solution—oriented session, “Developing School Models that Work,â€ moderated by Editor-In-Chief Derek T. Dingle and included panelists Dr. Roderick Richmond, chief of school operations, academic operations, technology and innovation for Memphis City Schools; Yetta Lewis, chief academic officer at Gestalt Community Schools, a charter school management association that serves K-12 scholars; and Reginald Porter, a commissioner with the Memphis/Shelby County Board of Education. Â From these two discussions, our editors developed the “SAVE OUR SCHOOLS CALL TO ACTION,â€ with a series of objectives to encourage more expansive, focused involvement from business leaders and entrepreneurs, among others.
To find out more about the challenges and solutions to America’s public school system, read the next three parts of this online series.