The Real-World Work of Workforce Development


Workforce development: Aligning the needs and resources of K-12 schools, businesses, and community partners. It is easier said than done, but the 120 people in this photo are doing it.

Last week I participated in “Alignment SW Charlotte”, a summit that brought together educators from Olympic Community of Schools (a group of five high schools); their middle and elementary feeder schools; colleges; nonprofit and faith community partners; and businesses from Charlotte’s southwest corridor.

The summit was convened because of an urgent challenge. From 2008-2018, STEM jobs in the US are expected to increase by 17%. Most of those jobs will be filled by non-US workers. The US is expected to be short by as many as three million high-skills workers by 2018. (Source: National Math and Science Initiative)

Charlotte Works, the local workforce development board for Mecklenburg County, reports the following STEM job numbers for the Charlotte region:

  • 6,000 advanced manufacturing
  • 7, 000 energy
  • 10,000 health care
  • 11,000 logistics & distribution
  • 30,000 IT-related

It is difficult for businesses to find qualified local employees to hire for these positions.

Alignment SW Charlotte is a concrete, pragmatic, effective local response to the workforce development problem. In last week’s meeting, we worked together in breakout groups to help educators plan for the 2015-16 school year. Through work like this, community relationships are strengthened and real plans are put into place that result in children achieving their human and economic potential in today’s world.

The hard work and smart collaboration of the partners have already led to success, including national awards and the opening of a $200,000 Advanced Manufacturing & Technology Center at Olympic. See four pages of results from last year’s work here.

Kudos to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employee Mike Realon for spearheading Alignment SW Charlotte. Mike works at Olympic as the Career and Community Development Officer. Mike and I first met while serving together on the Career and College Readiness Task Force in 2012. We joined with other K-12 staff, community and business leaders and representatives of local community college and universities to recommend a coordinated plan for increasing career and college readiness in our CMS students. It is gratifying that many of our task force recommendations, including the creation of Alignment SW Charlotte, have been implemented. You can read the recommendations here (starting on page 74).

Alignment SW Charlotte, and the task force that led to it, are real-world examples of this pillar of my platform:

pillarThe good news continues to grow. The Olympic partnerships have been so successful that now North Mecklenburg High School and its feeder elementary and middle schools are beginning to replicate the model. With your support I will be serving on the school board, watching over and advocating for this important work. Stay tuned…


For more info:

And now to acknowledge a few partners participating in the work of  Alignment SW Charlotte:

AXA Advisors, BGW CPA PLLC, Black Belt World, Bosch Rexroth, Carolinas College of Health Sciences, Carolinas Healthcare System, Central Steele Creek Presbyterian Church, Charlotte Chamber, Charlotte Works, BASF, City of Charlotte, CPCC, CRVA, Cybertary, DecisionPathHR, Discovery Place, Drive Inc., Edward Jones, Environmental Process Solutions, Falcon Fastening Solutions Inc., Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, Habitat for Humanity Charlotte, Jackson Orthodontics, Judah Church, Junior Achievement of Central Carolinas, Lane Construction, Logo’d Gear, Marriott Courtyard Billy Graham, Mecklenburg PTA Council, NAF/NC New Schools | Breakthrough Learning, neteffect technologies, Siemens Energy, SkoolAide, Standard Pacific, Steele Creek Pediatric Dentistry, Steele Creek Printing & Design, Steele Creek Residents Association, Steele Creek YMCA, Sysco Charlotte, Truliant Federal Credit Union….and of course Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools!

How Crowded Are Our Schools?

Overcrowding thumbnail“My kids eat lunch at 10am and 2pm!” A mom shared this with me the other day about Collinswood Language Academy, which has so many students that the cafeteria is stretched beyond capacity; lunch is served in shifts throughout the school day. Unconventional lunchtimes are a common and yet often overlooked aspect of overcrowding in our schools.

Our schools are filled to the gills, and we keep growing. If you are a student, parent, or employee at a CMS school, chances are you have experienced a building that is at or above capacity. You may have personally witnessed the trailers, the packed hallways, perhaps even the students sitting on tables when teachers can’t squeeze enough desks into a classroom.

My four years on the CMS Bond Oversight Committee have given me a long, clear look at the overcrowding crisis.


Surprising statistics to share:

  • 78% of our schools are either totally full or more than full.
  • Another 11% are nearly full, at 90-99% capacity
  • That leaves only 11% of schools below 90% capacity.
  • Albemarle Road Elementary (trailers shown above), our most crowded school, has nearly twice as many students than its buildings are designed for. It’s at 198% capacity. You can see crowding data for all CMS schools here.
  • Charlotte is the second-fastest growing big city in the United States. Its population is expected to surge by 47% between 2010 and 2030.
  • As the population grows, so does the number of students we serve. Last year, we had 145,000 students. We anticipate 21,000 more students by 2024.
  • We currently rely on approximately 1100 mobile units (affectionately known as learning cottages…or trailers) for classrooms.
  • If we were to build enough classrooms to eliminate mobiles today, we’d need 15.5 new elementary schools, 4.8 new middle schools, and 2.4 new high schools.
  • Land is becoming more scarce and expensive. The cost of labor and materials is rising. The longer we wait to build new schools, the more it costs, and the fewer options we have for locations.

It’s a serious situation that we need to address soon.

There’s Good News Too

I consider myself a realistic optimist. The glass might not be half full, but at least it’s a quarter full.

The good news is that voters recognize the need for schools. For instance, the most recent school bond referendum in 2013 passed by record numbers. (I served on the steering committee, coordinating  parental involvement in the bond campaign.) Mecklenburg County requested $290 million for school capital projects, and it was overwhelmingly approved.

However, the amount requested and approved was too small for the need. As a comparison, Wake County – a slightly smaller school district – asked voters to approve $810 million in school bonds. Voters said yes.

The other good news is that we’re efficient when we build schools, especially compared to other North Carolina districts. The elementary schools built by CMS in 2014 averaged $159 per square foot; the average in the rest of the state was $199 per square foot. (Source: NC Department of Public Instruction School Clearinghouse

How to Fix This

You may know that CMS and the school board have no funding authority. It is the role of the county and our county commissioners to authorize the timing and the amounts of bond referendums. Once a bond referendum is on the ballot, it is up to the voters to say yes or no. The school district can only ask for what it needs, in hopes that the county and voters will respond to the request.

Are you concerned about overcrowding in our schools? Urge your school board members to plan for more classrooms. Support your county commissioners in approving a bond referendum to address the need for more schools. Then, encourage your fellow citizens to vote to pass the bond. It is up to all of us to make a strong case for building schools so that our children can focus on learning and our teachers can focus on teaching.

Overcrowding Infographic

Campaign Launch: Photos and Speech

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The campaign to elect Elyse Dashew to the school board was launched on June 19, 2015 with a breakfast reception for 60 supporters at McClintock Middle School. Just two days earlier, nine people had been killed at a bible study meeting in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.

Here are Elyse’s remarks from the day of the launch.

I really need to feel hope and faith right now because of what happened in Charleston the day before yesterday. There are great troubles in our country and this hits very close to home. We need to surround ourselves with people who are committed to working for the greater good.

And that is who is here today, right now.

We also need to have hope because there are tremendous challenges in our own community right here…and the challenges are showing up in our public schools. Our economic mobility numbers are amongst the lowest in the nation. We have re-segregated. And employers are telling us that the workforce is increasingly ill-matched to the jobs that need to be filled.

These are serious issues that we need to own and address. They are our issues — my issues and yours. They have an impact on our children’s lives and our grandchildren’s lives, and it’s pretty urgent that we start paying attention and start stepping up our game. And the public school — this building that we’re standing in right now — is one of our most powerful and most essential tools that we have for addressing these issues. So we each as individuals, and all together as a community, have got to fully commit to supporting our public schools.

We need to make sure that our schools have the resources they need for our students to be successful. When I say resources, I mean that in a fiscal sense. But I’m also talking about a human sense. We need to pump up that pipeline of great teachers and staff and principals.

We also need our schools to be wisely guided by school board members. Our school board is another human resource. We need school board members who are smart; who understand complex policy and unintended consequences; who are committed to following the evidence, even when the evidence is surprising; and who are open to learning new ideas; who connect with the community; who lead the community on difficult issues; who are collaborative; who are fiercely committed to doing what is best for all children; and who will build and lead coalitions to make sure that this happens.

And so that’s why we’re here today. I feel a calling to serve in this capacity. I have a passion to serve. I have the life experiences and the skill set to serve.

I hope that you will join me on this journey and help me to get elected. Then, once I am serving on the school board, I hope that you will continue to work with me. Please continue to talk with me, support me, correct me, advise me. Because this is going to be a long-term game here, and the issues we’re facing are very tough. But I know that we can move the needle on them. It’s going to take a whole lot of courage and commitment from all of us. The school board race is really just one part of it, but it’s an important part of it.

Thank you for being a part of this. Thank you for being a force for good and prosperity in our community.

I’m just so honored and humbled and I can’t wait to serve you.

Teacher Voice

TeacherVoice138Educators understand school policy better than the rest of us do. They’re living it and breathing it every day. We need to do more to include teacher voice in the process of policy-making.

Teachers play a central role in my campaign. I am fortunate to have teacher friends who have mentored me in curriculum issues and teaching techniques. They have shared under-the-radar replicable classroom success stories. They have pointed out unintended consequences I might not have otherwise foreseen. They have made me a stronger, more effective advocate for what our children need.

Some of our campaign volunteers:

I am actively engaging teachers for advice, and will continue to do so throughout the campaign and beyond.


Our very first event in May was a roundtable with a dozen educators hosted in the home of a teacher. In advance, I submitted a long list of questions, and each teacher chose two that they felt particularly passionate about addressing. See my list of questions here.

It was such a success that we hosted a second teacher roundtable, following my June 19 campaign kickoff at McClintock Middle School.

Here are key takeaways from what the educators shared with me:

  • Evaluations. Teachers feel that the staff evaluation process needs to be more helpful. Evaluations should be for coaching, not for punishing. Teachers want feedback on what they’re doing well, what they could do better, and how they can grow. That last piece — how to grow — is often missing from the process. They proposed peer evaluations as a tool that could possibly be powerful.
  • New teacher support. We need a better structure in place for guiding and supporting new teachers. One teacher experienced Teach Charlotte as a good model.
  • Interaction. In some schools, the interaction level between teachers and their principals and assistant principals is low. The teachers I spoke with have a theory as to why. Principals and assistant principals have seen their job descriptions, mandates, and paperwork grow dramatically in recent years, while staffing levels have been cut. Many simply have too much on their plate to be able to truly support and coach their teaching staff. And principals need better professional development and support as well.

Thank you to all the teachers for taking the time to share your insights with me. It was a generous and powerful act. Understanding your perspective will make me a better school board member.

TeacherVoice97Shockingly, there have been recent incidents of state legislators intimidating and shaming teachers for speaking up about bills that affect the classroom. Legislation is currently in committee that some see as an attempt to muzzle the teacher voice. This is backwards.

When education policy is guided by engaged teachers, we will be in good hands. And on top of that, when educators are truly respected and valued, they are less likely to be recruited away to different school districts or career paths.

Please join me in acknowledging the professionalism, knowledge and wisdom of our educators. The job they do is critically important to our society. Encourage your elected officials to listen to teacher voices. As a result, we will see improvements in our education system, and our children will benefit.