More than 300 elementary-aged students this week filled the halls of the newly-opened Movement School, the first of many its leaders hope to start across the nation with the aim of  transforming lives and neighborhoods.

The public charter school, which opened August 9 to 305 students in kindergarten through second grade, is the result of a $12 million investment from Movement Mortgage’s nonprofit foundation. The school is housed in a renovated Kmart in Charlotte, N.C.’s historically underserved western corridor, and illustrates Movement Foundation’s commitment to bringing life, light and hope to communities in need.

Using a sustainable funding model that makes use of state tax dollars, the school will add a subsequent grade each year. It will observe a year-round school calendar, serve free breakfast and lunch and provide transportation for students.

“There is nothing more important that we could invest in than a school for our children,” says Movement CEO Casey Crawford, also chairman of the Movement School board. “The hope of our city is in their hands.”

Casey Crawford addresses parents and students in Movement School’s auditorium during the school’s grand opening and Open House on August 2. Photo by Noah Turley.
Finding the vision

The idea for Movement School developed eight years ago when Crawford heard the director of a charter school deliver her doctoral thesis on why Christian schools fail the urban poor. She identified the problem as funding, or the lack thereof.

Absent an investor willing to bankroll them, these schools were doomed to fail because they weren’t sustainable. So, she proposed a solution: faith-based organizations with a passion to serve people could acquire real estate and bring in a charter school that would give students a quality education. Providing that upfront capital would allow the school to use public money to fund its operations without relying on an investor in perpetuity.

And while that speech gave Crawford the gusto to start a charter school, the seeds were planted years earlier when he was a youth growing up in Washington, D.C.

There, he worked summer jobs at his father’s True Value hardware store, located in a depressed urban neighborhood, and became friends with several neighborhood teens who also worked there. That’s when he observed a stark contrast: his friends with educational opportunities followed healthier life paths, no matter their background or financial status. But, it was a different story for those without the same educational exposure.

“That’s when I really began to understand the power of an education,” Crawford says.

Students sprawl on a mat during Movement School’s movie night, one of several summertime events the school hosted in honor of its “founding families.” Photo by Noah Turley.
Loving and valuing students

In 2015, Movement Foundation bought a dilapidated shopping center in west Charlotte with plans to renovate it into a state-of-the-art educational facility. Construction began in fall 2016 and finished this summer.

Today, the school’s walls and classrooms display bright colors, whimsical shapes and circular windows. The building hums with activity and smells of fresh paint. It has 13 classrooms equipped with tablets and Smart Boards, a cafe that shares a partition with an auditorium, a library, technology lab, media center and outdoor playground. Nineteen teachers and 36 staff members run it day-to-day.

The curriculum follows statewide educational standards but also offers individualized instruction to students who need it. Youngsters will learn the basics — math, reading, science, history — but they’ll also take classes that focus on character development, such as generosity and what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.

Says Tim Hurley, Movement Foundation’s executive director of education: “We are committed to developing students’ knowledge and character, so they can control their futures and give back to those around them.”

The Sugar Creek connection

Movement School’s academic model and staff were seeded by Sugar Creek Charter School, an acclaimed charter in northwest Charlotte that’s earned praise for how it’s served students living below the poverty line. Founded in 1999, Sugar Creek today educates more than 1,500 children and is renown as one of the state’s highest-performing charter schools.

It was the perfect model for Movement School to emulate.

“We looked around the country for a successful (charter) school model and found, right in our backyard, Sugar Creek,” Crawford says.

Teachers and staff celebrate moments after Movement School Director Jamie Sumter cuts the ribbon during the school’s grand opening. Photo by Noah Turley.

Jamie Sumter and Latoya Belin,  two longtime Sugar Creek educators, serve as Movement School’s director and assistant director, respectively. For months, they’ve worked to establish the school’s tone, build its staff and recruit its student population.

“We have hired some amazing teachers with many unique gifts and talents,” Sumter says. “I can’t wait to see them work their magic in the classroom and impact each scholar’s life and provide them with a love of learning.”

That’s welcome news for Shamaiye Haynes, whose daughter Maiye is a second-grader at Movement School. Although initially skeptical about charter schools, she decided to send her daughter to Movement School after realizing the girl wasn’t being challenged at her former school. She was also encouraged that Movement School would adopt the same curriculum as Sugar Creek.

“The individualized curriculum is what I feel she will benefit from,” Shamaiye says of her daughter. “It’s all about curriculum and engagement and a lot less about socioeconomic status.”

Movement School demonstrates the power of corporate philanthropy in addressing issues that afflict communities, such as poverty or a resource gap.

Adds Crawford: “This really is a story of a lot of people’s gifts, talents and abilities coming together in God’s providential timing.”

About the Author:

Jonathan McFadden

Jonathan McFadden is a copywriter for Movement Mortgage and contributing author to the Movement Blog. A former newspaper reporter, he is a fan of compelling, narrative storytelling, despises cliches and believes the Oxford comma should be outlawed. When he’s not writing for Movement, he serves at his church, creates content for the Dad Will Do It website and eats — a lot.