MATTHEWS – Cedric Stone gives education the credit for his own success.
The Mint Hill resident moved to the Charlotte area about seven years ago with his family for a job opportunity – but opportunities haven’t always been easy to get for the Cincinnati, Ohio, native.
Growing up in inner-city Cincinnati, Stone’s childhood consisted of a mother and a father, but a lack of support, he said. He was often hungry and left wearing the same clothes as the day before. With gangs and drugs at his reach, the at-risk teen set his sights on something much greater – a promising future, putting education, graduation and college at the top of his priority list.
“I would escape mentally when I got to my house,” Stone said. “I’ve always dreamed and thought of my future and what it would be like one day. That environment created a fire in my belly to succeed and I’ve carried that torch my whole life. Education was my outlet.”
Now, Stone wants to give back, and last week received approval from the state to move forward on a 20-year vision to open a nonprofit school targeting at-risk students. The school, known as Concrete Roses STEM Academy, will be the first public charter kindergarten through 12th-grade STEM academy in Mecklenburg County, Stone said. Stone saw a need in the community for more STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, education for at-risk kids.
“I saw how important education has been in my own life – I just want to ensure other kids have that opportunity, as well,” Stone said.
Stone holds a doctorate of education in educational leadership and community specialization from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a master’s in business administration and management from Miami University of Ohio and bachelor’s degree in marketing from Ohio State University. He currently works as an adjunct professor at Rowan Cabarrus Community College, and is department chair and assistant professor for the school of business and economics at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. He previously worked as district manager for American Honda Motor Company and zone manager for Ford Motor Company. He also currently works as a substitute teacher for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and a volunteer football coach at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology in addition to tutoring and mentoring students.
With his business background, Stone wanted the school to be centered around helping students successfully enter the workforce after graduation – whether college is in the cards or not. He’s formed a board of directors, both education and business-minded individuals from around the greater-Charlotte area and beyond, including Chang Wong, a research professor at UNC Charlotte; Greg Wiggan, an urban education teacher at UNC Charlotte; Charles Schooler, a market representative manager for Ford Motor Company; Dayne Clark, CPA with his firm Accounting Unlimited; and Nolan McMurray, department chair for the math department at Benedict College.
“I have a solid board in place – that’s key to getting a charter up and running,” Stone said.
The school is set to open August 2014. The board is currently working to launch a grassroots marketing campaign at the end of this month, Stone said, launching a website and recruiting sponsors to meet the school’s financial needs. He’s already working to secure a space for the school, considering the old Steve and Barry’s building off Sardis Road in Charlotte.
“It’s a huge building and I really like everything it offers,” Stone said, adding he would eventually like to move the school to Mint Hill to build a full campus, including elementary, middle and high school buildings. “The community there is just a gold mine.”
But he first has to get the students to come. Starting out, the plan is to have at least 18 classrooms and teachers, Stone said. That equates to about 405 kindergarten through ninth-grade students. Tenth, 11th and 12th grades will be phased in on a year-by-year basis. All grades should exist by 2017, with about 806 students. Stone said he hopes to cap enrollment between 2,200 and 2,300.
In addition to serving at-risk students, the school will be open to students from all socio-economic backgrounds, Stone said, which will give students the chance to learn in a diverse environment. The school also will be “highly infused with technology” for all grade levels, he added.
“My focus is that the school is open to all. I want to attract students from Matthews, Mint Hill and the Ballantyne area. When you get those different types of students together, you can really transform the culture of learning,” Stone said. “These students can learn from each other’s backgrounds, and I think a charter school allows me to be a lot more understanding of the issues at-risk children face on a day-to-day basis.”