With a degree in mechanical engineering and another in business administration, Jevelyn Bonner-Reed may not fit the mold of a professional whose career focus is on education. Yet, for the past nine years, efforts to improve public schools has been at the heart of her work.
On Aug. 1, Bonner-Reed began a new job as the Belk Foundation’s executive director, succeeding Johanna Anderson, the foundation’s inaugural director.
With more than $48 in assets, the Belk Foundation since 2000 has awarded more than $53 million to various initiatives, with a current focus on early literacy (grades K-3) and “equitable access to effective teachers.”
Bonner-Reed, who has sons in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), said she feels she is in the right place at the right time to affect positive change.
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“There’s significance in being at the table when deciding what grants to make, who would be on boards and who would be on committees,” she told QCity Metro during a recent interview. “It’s all part of our decisions on how we invest in the community.”
Before joining the Belk Foundation, Bonner-Reed served as chief human resources officer for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, from 2019- 2021. She also has worked for CMS, as director of grant innovation and as director of human resources strategic initiatives.
Bonner-Reed began her career as a manufacturing engineer for 3M Co. She also held corporate positions at Goldman Sachs and Ford Motor Co.
In the Q&A below, her answers were edited for length and clarity.
With CMS facing issues such as teacher shortages and low test scores, how can an organization like the Belk Foundation help?
The focus of the Belk Foundation is K-3 literacy, teacher effectiveness and teacher pipeline development.
One of the ways is to make sure that our teachers, our student teachers and local colleges and universities have a good experience and make sure that they think of CMS first when it comes to job opportunities. We prepare (student teachers) really well so that they know how to operate in different types of schools.
We also bring other foundations along and collaborate to support programs like that. In May, we issued an investment at N.C. State where they will research the recruitment and support improvement of 10 lower-performing schools.
What are you most looking forward to implementing in your new role?
I look forward to making it easier for people to apply for our opportunities and attracting new and different nonprofits (that are) doing excellent work that we may not know about.
What excites me about this job, even though I’m not an educator, is that I can support the teachers, principals, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers.
I have a niece that had a real struggle with taking the EOG (end-of-grade exams). I have sons in CMS. They’re always on my mind regarding how I can advocate for them. As a parent, I can bring my experience working with educators to understand and listen to all different perspectives.
What is significant about you stepping into this role for this school year, specifically?
I’m excited for two reasons. The first is being part of the solution to deal with the pandemic results over the last two years. Frankly, some people weren’t getting their needs met before the pandemic. I’m reflecting on that and not trying to return to pre-pandemic numbers, because they weren’t good. It’s about moving forward after exposure and experiencing this trauma that we’ve all been through. So I love being part of this at this point.
The other side is that, after two years of being chief HR officer of another school, a large urban school district in the state, I know what it’s like to not have the teachers you want by the beginning of the school year.
How do you bring your previous experience in education and public corporations to the Belk Foundation?
I substituted once a month at my last district, so I got to see the challenges. I have kids that had their challenges, and my two nieces had challenges. So I feel like it’s the right time to do this.
I understand what it’s like to be on the other side of trying to grow your organization or support your leaders, teachers and district. So it’s the right time for me. It’s the right time for me to get that all together when it’s needed, and right now we must come together to move forward after everything we’ve been through.
What’s the significance of being in this position as a Black woman?
I take seriously being a role model for the role and making it something that people may think about doing in the future. The more people at the table, the better the decisions will be made, because you have somebody at the table that identifies some of the issues you’re trying to address with the funding you’re trying to provide to the community.