Michael Silver is the right person in the right job at the right time.
But it sure hasn’t looked the way he imagined.
“I never thought my first principalship would be during the middle of a pandemic,” said Silver, discussing his leadership role at VERITAS Charter School in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Silver’s first six months on the job haven’t offered much time for personal reflection. Instead, they’ve called for action. That’s because this school with incredible potential has also faced big challenges beyond the coronavirus.
“Our goal was to stabilize,” said Silver, noting declining enrollment from 130 to fewer than 80 kindergarten-through-seventh graders.
Food insecurity plus a lack of technology resources and classroom supplies were also pressing issues. For Silver, the writing was on the wall.
“We needed to get back to our roots,” he said regarding VERITAS’ core mission of expanding students’ horizons through historical, scientific and cultural topics. “We needed to be living to what our charter says. We had to do better instructionally. If our students aren’t learning and growing, there’s not going to be a school here for them.”
The turnaround needed buy-in from community partners. Count Regions Bank among them.
“Supporting VERITAS has been a great way to bring together our team members who may not typically have a lot of interaction,” said Maura Atwater, a managing director of the Regions Business Capital team. “But, more importantly, who doesn’t want to help students?”
For Atwater, that help began with leading a 2019 collection providing holiday meals for VERITAS families in need. Mike Mason from the Corporate Banking group and Thad Walton with the Commercial Banking team joined her. Mason personally bought 75 turkeys; Walton worked with a bank client to secure more donated meals. Collectively, Charlotte-area Regions associates gave more than $2,500 toward the meals and gift cards to help make the holidays brighter.
Gretchen Bottrill raised her hand to help VERITAS in 2019 after discovering the learning roadblocks students were facing.
“Some of the students don’t have a stable address and their mode of transportation changes daily,” said Bottrill, a managing director of Regions’ Energy Lending team. “Access to the internet is extra challenging when there’s no Wi-Fi to begin with. Watching the VERITAS staff solve for these issues in addition to their teaching duties makes me want to pitch in and help however I can.”
We’ve tried to give our families options in a time when they may not have many.
Michael Silver, VERITAS Charter School principal
Bottrill certainly has, purchasing gym and art supplies during the school’s “Adopt a Teacher” campaign. Today, she serves as the school board treasurer.
Regions Bank is also investing its treasure into VERITAS, donating $15,000 this school year.
“Regions single-handedly gave us the ability to move from looking at our needs to looking at some of our wants,” said Silver. “We’ve been able to add two teachers knowing that expenses we’d anticipated would be covered. It’s given us the ability to breathe.”
Before the pandemic, associates also invested time reading to students. It’s something everyone has missed.
“It’s been different this year,” said Bottrill. “Normally, there are volunteers in the school all the time. We unfortunately can’t do that right now.”
Silver knows the value students receive from those personal interactions is priceless.
“The difference between a good school and a great school is relationships,” said Silver. “Having Regions on campus in front of our students is important. It’s their chance to see people outside the school who are successful and look like them. I really want to get back to that.”
Another tradition that will look different is VERITAS’ Thanksgiving Viking Feast, normally held at the school. This year, Regions is covering the cost of 75 holiday dinners prepared by the school’s cafeteria team and being sent home with VERITAS families. And bank associates are already raising money for the annual collection drive to provide a little extra support during the holiday season.
For Silver, it’s been a whirlwind six months filled with needs he never expected as an educator: new ventilation systems and creating outdoor learning environments to keep students safe.
At the beginning of the year, 60 students attended in-person classes; now, there are 90. Virtual learning is provided for dozens of additional students.
“We developed a plan where we’re a school of choice,” said Silver. “And that’s what we’re working to provide to our parents: choices. We’ve tried to give our families options in a time when they may not have many.”
Silver’s efforts are earning high marks, with 141 students now enrolled.
He’s grateful to all who have offered their support, including the bank.
“Regions has meant more to us than I can probably put into words,” said Silver. “The words ‘passionate’ and ‘genuine’ come to mind for bank associates. They’re very caring.”
Silver is also passionate, already thinking ahead to the next big challenge: a new school to replace VERITAS’ current, older structure.
“We’re now looking at next year, not next month,” said Silver. “We’re thinking about the future.”
Atwater, Bottrill and others will be there to lend support.
“This isn’t just about helping during the holidays,” said Bottrill. “This partnership is 365 days a year. Our Charlotte team is trying to ensure that every student at VERITAS has what he or she needs to succeed.”