2016 Annual Letter to Friends

By Katie B. Morris - Posted June 21, 2016

Dear friends,

Another season of graduations has come to a close. The internet is full of graduation speech highlights. I was particularly struck by the speech given by James Ryan, the Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. If you haven’t watched it, I encourage you to do so. Dean Ryan shared five “truly essential” questions with the graduates. His message resonated deeply with me, and I share my reflections on these questions with you:

Question #1: Wait, what? Dean Ryan’s first question asks for clarification, “crucial to understanding.” He reminds us that we must first understand. One of the most important roles that a funder can do is to ask questions, constantly seeking to understand. Lately I’ve been mindful of the ratio of questions to opinions that I share. I hope that ratio will always favor questions, and I ask you to hold us accountable to this.

Question #2: I wonder why? Or I wonder if? We think a lot about innovation in education, and the root of all innovation is curiosity. Wondering allows us to dream of a better world, question the status quo, and think about how to improve. Over the past few years, I’ve marveled at the way that former NC Teacher of the Year James Ford calls us to wonder about a different world for our students and educators. We are honored to support his work with the Public School Forum Beginning Teacher Network, encouraging young educators to a life of curiosity.

Question #3: Couldn’t we at least...? This question seeks consensus, bringing disparate views together on common goals. I am struck so often by the polarization within public education, but it helps to remember that while there is vast disagreement on the “how”, we can almost always agree on the “why” – improving life outcomes for our youngest generation. If we can start with “couldn’t we at least agree” on that, we acknowledge the good intentions and are more likely to find common ground to work together. A woman who has a gift of bringing people together, Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, has blessed our Board with her service the past three years. We are grateful for Ophelia and the leadership she models for our community.

Question #4: How can I help? A humble and generous question, of which the Foundation has been on the receiving end countless times. Two friends of the Foundation come to mind when I think about this question. The first is Lee Keesler, head of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, who has offered so many supports to Read Charlotte since its inception, not the least of which is housing the staff in the Main Library location. The second is Gene Cochrane, retiring from his leadership post at The Duke Endowment this month. The Foundation and I have benefited from Gene’s counsel over the years. Gene, thank you for setting an example for our field.

Question #5: What truly matters? The fifth question calls us to remember the “heart of the issues” and keeps us dedicated to the work. No one reminds me more of this question than the many school leaders and educators that I encounter. The Board had the honor of sitting down with Denise Watts, the director of Project LIFT, and Meaghan Loftus, Principal of Ashley Park PreK-8 School, this past fall. They spoke of the challenging work of school reform, but most of all, they reminded us what truly matters: that a child feels seen and heard by a loving adult who believes in them and their potential. Isn’t this, after all, what we all want for our children?

As our fiscal year ends, I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the incredible work that our partners do every day, and am grateful that we are invited to be a small part of their success. I encourage you to review the list of organizations that inspired our Board this year.

Many thanks for the ways that you are partners with us in our mission to improve educational outcomes for children. We learn constantly from our grantee partners and funder colleagues, and hope that you will continue to ask the good questions with us.