The Belk Foundation

Message from the Chair

Dear Friend of The Belk Foundation,

We work collaboratively with our grantees and community partners, and are offering you a behind-the-scenes look into our November 2013 Board of Directors meeting. It’s our hope that by understanding The Belk Foundation’s processes, you might also better understand our priorities.

This summer we announced that The Belk Foundation will invest in results-oriented nonprofits and districts with demonstrable success in:

• Strengthening teachers and leaders in public schools, and
• Equipping K-3 students with the knowledge and skills to perform at or above grade level in core subjects, with emphasis on closing the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers.

Throughout the year we educate ourselves about these focus areas by reading industry publications, meeting with education leaders and policymakers, attending industry webinars, and most importantly, visiting our grantees and classrooms. In semi-annual meetings, Board members review lessons learned in light of The Belk Foundation’s growing focus in education reform. The Board uses that information when determining how to best partner with our grantees to achieve maximum impact.

One example of a question that we have been considering internally and in discussion with our grantees is, “What measurable and meaningful outcomes should the Board seek from our investments?” Summative assessments are more easily identifiable for our K-3 focus area, but the Board grapples with appropriate metrics given the long-term, systemic nature of our Teacher-Leader focus area. As the Board works to better understand this issue, we will continue to seek guidance and input from our grantees.

Board Member Johnny Belk talks with 1st graders at Sugar Creek Charter School about what they are reading.

At the Board meeting, the Foundation’s Executive Director presented grant applications recommended by the Grants Committee. After discussion, Board members elected to make fewer but more substantial grants this cycle in an effort to make a deeper impact. We hope that fewer grants will allow us more time to get to know and learn from our grantee partners. The Board approved fourteen grants totaling $1,335,000 in Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, and at the State level. Four of those grants aligned with the Foundation’s Teacher-Leader focus while ten aligned with our focus of improving K-3 Core Achievement.

At dinner on the first day, the Board hosted Caroline Novak, Executive Director of grantee A+ Education Partnership in Alabama, Jessica Hammons, Director of Alabama GRIT, and Dr. John Denning, State Director, K-12 & Postsecondary Alignment Initiatives at NC Ready for Success, to explore the complexities surrounding Common Core State Standards. It was fascinating to compare the approaches of communicating and implementing higher standards in two southern states. At the end of the evening, we had an even deeper commitment to supporting these higher standards, and a greater appreciation for the educators who are responsible for transforming their teaching to meet the challenge.

Wanting to get into classrooms, we spent the second day of our Board meeting at Sugar Creek Charter School, a high poverty school where composite achievement scores rose from 27% in 1999 to over 80% in 2012. There we learned about K-3 literacy instruction and cultural improvements that fueled this school’s academic growth. The Board visited several classrooms to learn more about the school’s reading and math strategies. There is nothing better than seeing truly exceptional teachers with their students.

Board members observed different learning stations in the classroom to better understand how reading and writing is taught.

After our site visit, Board members turned back to the business of the organization, reviewing a few items of Board policy and hearing a report from the investment and finance committee. The Board discussed progress in establishing the Next Generation Advisory Board, through which we are developing a fourth generation of family leadership to serve this philanthropic legacy. Board members also discussed the results of our Board of Directors’ Self-Evaluation, which pointed to a few ways that we can better communicate and engage the Board in between meetings. The Board ended by discussing ideas for an upcoming day dedicated to area site visits, so that we can learn even more from our community partners.

The Belk Foundation’s resolve to strengthen results-oriented nonprofits dedicated to student success is stronger than ever. Thank you for allowing us to be an integral part of your ongoing work.

Katie B. Morris
Board Chair

Belk Foundation

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