A 36-year veteran of public schools who champions African-American students is the Charlotte Post Foundation’s Educator of the Year.
Honoree Dr. Curtis Carroll retired as principal of Vance High School in February, ending 28 years with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He will be celebrated at the Foundation’s annual banquet on October 10 at the Hilton center city.
“Dr. Carroll’s work and dedication at CMS has helped draw young people into the future with innovative techniques and heartfelt inspiration,” said Gerald Johnson, publisher of The Charlotte Post and president of The Charlotte Post Foundation. “His exemplary performance clearly defines the standard for this award.”
Schools exist to benefit students, Carroll said. “I think kids can do so much more than we ever anticipate.” He advocates rigorous academics from nurturing teachers.
“To see him in action, it’s a beautiful sight,” said Dr. Daisy Walker, who spent a half century with CMS and who was the Foundation’s Educator of the Year for 2017. “The kids love him. They know he cares. They respond to him.”
Walker has known Carroll since 1993 when the Flint, MI, native arrived at CMS from teaching in Evanston, IL. Previously, he’d worked in his hometown school district.
Dr. Marion Yates, retired principal of South Mecklenburg High who is a vice president with Communities In Schools, also forged a friendship with Carroll early on.
“When you meet Curtis, you know he’s genuine,” Yates said. She admires his compassion. “He understands students – and parents.”
Carroll acknowledged that Walker and Yates were pivotal in his career. After serving as assistant principal at West Mecklenburg High and McClintock Middle, Carroll sought the principal slot at McClintock and asked Walker and Yates for advice. They put him through an intensive five-hour training session.
“They took a young man who was extremely rough around the edges and prepared me,” Carroll remembered. “There was no question that could have been posed that I wasn’t ready for.”
He got the principalship and often has passed on a lesson learned. “I tell young educators, there’s someone who knows more than you who can help you,” Carroll said.
A grateful recipient of Carroll’s advice is CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston. “Dr. Carroll has been a mentor, a colleague, a friend and a confidante to me,” said Winston. “I still intend to reach out to him and seek his advice.”
Winston praised Carroll’s strong belief in student achievement. “He was born to be an educator,” Winston said. Carroll has “not just challenged students but cajoled them into achieving more than they ever thought they would,” he added.
“I don’t think anybody is as good as I am at getting minority students into post-secondary schools,” Carroll said. “If a child comes to my school and does what he or she is supposed to do, somebody will give them some money for college.”
He points to Warren Chancellor, a student leader when Carroll was principal at Harding University High. Chancellor excelled academically but struggled on tests. Morehouse College accepted Chancellor but didn’t allocate him much financial aid. Carroll called a Morehouse dean and asked, “Just spend 20 minutes with Warren.”
After meeting Chancellor, the dean phoned Carroll to say the incoming freshman would get $64,000 in scholarship help.
Chancellor earned a degree in Mathematics. He’s now managing director of National Operations for Leadership Programs at Relay, a non-profit institute of higher learning.
Carroll left briefly to work in Florida’s Duval County system but returned to CMS to be area superintendent for 11 low-performing schools in the Achievement Zone. Working with the Parthenon Group, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Harvard University, Carroll helped produce a significant rise in state test proficiency rates at West Charlotte High, West Mecklenburg High and Wilson Middle.
But as Walker observed, Carroll “wants to be with students,” and he moved on in 2010 to Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology as principal. Four years later, he became superintendent of West Learning Community. But in 2018, he made one more move.
“We were having difficulty finding a principal for Vance High,” Carroll said, “and I volunteered to go.” Shortly, he pulled off another student-centered feat.
The Vance Cougars won the 2019 state 4AA football title, but the athletic budget couldn’t fund championship rings. With a donation from Yates, Carroll took action.
“I called in favors,” he said. “I did everything necessary.” He found $35,000 for rings. “The young men had worked hard,” he said. “It was imperative they could celebrate.”
Working with others extended to Carroll’s family. He and wife Tonya, a pharmacist, owned a drug store on West Boulevard. They purposely located in an underserved area, with strong community backing from leaders like Vilma Leake and the late Dorothy Waddy. And they had support from daughter Brittany, now a pharmacist, and son Brent.
Carroll praised his pastor, Dr. Ricky Woods of First Baptist Church-West, for comfort during and after his wife’s battle with cancer, which she lost in 2019.
“Everything I’ve done has been with the team in mind,” Carroll said, adding that he likes the CMS team. “I don’t think Charlotteans really know what we have here,” he said. “This is a good school system.”