Five Communities: Asheville City Schools Foundation

For the upcoming ReCONNECT to Community forum, Nov. 27 in Asheville, the Institute for Emerging Issues has chosen five community initiatives from throughout North Carolina that will share with our forum audience how they’re working to increase civic engagement in their communities. Here, we profile the Asheville City Schools Foundation, a nonprofit formed 30 years ago to help Asheville City Schools meet their goal of giving every child in the system a quality education.

Thirty years ago, the Asheville City Schools Foundation wanted to figure out how the community could help the local public school system with fulfilling their mission of giving every Asheville child a quality education.

Asheville High School students interviewing New York Times magazine reporter Nikole Hannah Jones at one of the Foundation’s events.

In 2018, the Foundation is still helping with that mission, partnering with the school system on everything from after-school programs to racial equity education for the community.

Strengthening schools strengthens communities, which is why the Foundation has been chosen as one of the five community initiatives that will tell their stories of civic engagement work at IEI’s upcoming ReCONNECT to Community forum, being held Nov. 27 in Asheville.

“There’s such a link between a strong education system and the strength of democracy,” said Kate Pett, executive director of the Asheville City Schools Foundation.

In particular, the Foundation’s racial equity work will be highlighted at the forum. This work includes hosting community discussions about the effects of racial disparity on the school system, offering grants for schools to buy more literature featuring strength and resilience in communities of color, and spearheading an effort in which local eighth-grade students are overseeing a project that will create a diversity curriculum that will be taught to other eighth graders in the area.

“We live in a world that’s so diverse. We need to make sure our kids go through a school system that’s reflective of that,” said William Irby, a Foundation board member who has served past terms as board president.

William Irby talking about the Legacy of Segregation at one of the Foundation’s events.

As an African American parent with two children in the Asheville City School System, Irby knows firsthand the importance of minority students feeling included. Like many Asheville residents, he has become increasingly concerned about the high achievement gap seen in his area, and if you look at the data, “There’s no denying that race plays a part in that,” he said.

The Foundation is a separate nonprofit entity from the Asheville City School System, but often acts in partnership with the school system, and it’s a partnership that benefits the area’s children greatly, said Denise Patterson, superintendent of Asheville City Schools.

“The Foundation thinks about the community as a whole and how to support our community,” Patterson said of the Foundation.

Patterson is excited about the chanc e for the Foundation’s work to be presented at the ReCONNECT to Community forum, knowing that the statewide platform can only amplify the work of the Foundation.

Pett agrees.

“I’m so appreciative and so excited about the Forum,” Pett said. “What we’re struggling with in Asheville is not unique.”

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