EdNC – Great Teachers and School Leaders Matter: Katie B. Morris

Belk Foundation board meeting at Ashley Park Pre-K K-8 school.

Great Teachers and School Leaders Matter: Katie B. Morris

By Dan Gitterman - Posted March 27, 2016

To change and to improve are two different things. – German proverb

Improvement of K-12 public education through investments in early grade learning and quality teachers and school leaders are the focus of the Belk Foundation. Research and programs, including many from the University of North Carolina (UNC) system, inform the Foundation’s investments, partnerships, and advocacy.

In 2010, The Belk Foundation decided to examine and redefine the mission of the family foundation. “After over 80 years as a foundation with a broad mission, we asked ourselves: How much impact are our grants having and how will we measure this impact? What has changed in the world as a result of our grants?’ These were hard questions to answer. Since 1928, the Foundation has spent more than $60 million to support organizations doing important work across our communities. But when we looked across our multiple investments, we weren’t quite sure what social change they had actually accomplished. Once we realized that we did not know exactly what impact we were having, we knew we had to change.”

In response, Morris led the Foundation through a process of learning and evaluation. Research and analysis from the UNC system informed the Foundation’s realignment. The outcome? While there are many critical issues facing the communities in which the Foundation invests, the Foundation elected to narrow its focus to an area of great importance: K-12 public education. After three years of studying the field and learning from grantees and experts, the Foundation was compelled by evidence that providing young people with quality teachers and a solid base of achievement by the third grade impacts their lifelong success. Thus, the Foundation committed to focus its grantmaking on lasting improvements in these two critical areas.

In the examination process, “We looked at research and took a lot of time to talk with different thought leaders in the field. Of course that brings us to Chapel Hill, to UNC General Administration (UNC GA), and we’re very keen on the research that they’re doing on the field of teaching.”

The UNC Educator Quality Dashboard provides a robust source of information and research with easy access. In May of 2015, UNC GA launched the Dashboard as a way to extend research on teacher preparation to others. At the Foundation, Morris has used the Dashboard to better understand the state of teacher preparation and assess potential grant endeavors: “The UNC Educator Quality Dashboard is a game changer. It’s like none other in the nation. For the first time, we have information that we can look at that compares apples to apples.”

Cutting edge research and data collection into the teaching profession has been taking place for years across schools of education, school districts, and other state agencies. Working together, the SAS Institute, UNC’s fifteen educator preparation programs, and the UNC system were able to bring it together in a public, interactive, transparent web-based tool. In addition to benefitting organizations like the Foundation, Morris has heard from deans of education how valuable the Dashboard has been for their faculty. “I was with a dean of a school of education recently. She created a scavenger hunt through the data to help faculty use and understand the Dashboard. One of the things that really caught their eye was that their graduates said they didn’t feel well prepared to teach English Learners. They all kind of had an ‘ah-ha’ moment there. Right on the spot, they brainstormed a strategy to fix the problem. [Data] helps us ask the important questions.”

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