Wilmington businessman tapped to lead first-of-its-kind girls charter school

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Todd Godbey. Photo courtesy Young Women Leading, Inc.
Todd Godbey. Photo courtesy Young Women Leading Inc.

When Todd Godbey and a group of organizers behind the push for an all-girls public charter school in Wilmington recently visited a sister institution in Austin, Texas, one of the students told them the program and its expectations were–in a word–hard.

But when asked why she stuck with it, Godbey recalled, the girl said, quite matter-of-fact, “Because I’m going to change the world.”

It’s a moment that encapsulates Godbey’s commitment to bringing The Leadership Academy for Young Women (LAYW) to the Port City–the first single-gender school of its kind in the state.

As the newly appointed president of the grade school and its nonprofit foundation, Young Women Leading Inc., Godbey is charged with overseeing the development and opening of the college-preparatory facility aimed at reaching predominantly low-income girls in sixth through twelfth grades.

Godbey, the publisher and owner of Nancy Hall Publications–which produces six monthly publications covering southeastern North Carolina, among them Kidsville News–is also an active member of the community, serving on the board of directors of the Carousel Center, Communities in Schools of Brunswick County and Cape Fear Center for Inquiry, a Wilmington charter school.

Judy Girard, a Wrightsville Beach resident who presided over the Food Network from 1998-2004 and later headed up HGTV, is a co-chair and founder of Young Women Leading Inc.

LAYW has a targeted opening date of fall 2016, pending final approval from the State Board of Education. In February, LAYW received a unanimous vote of approval by the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board. The state school board is expected to vote on the charter in July.

In his efforts to get the school off the ground, in late March and early April, Godbey toured several sites in the Young Women’s Leadership Network in New York and Texas. Founded in 1996 in East Harlem, the network now has five schools in New York City and has inspired 11 affiliates across the nation.

“I’ve seen the numbers and read all the statistics, but to really see it in action was inspiring,” Godbey said. “When we went to Austin, it was like getting a lifetime of education in seven hours.”

Godbey, Girard and others involved with the local effort met four students in Austin who took them on a tour of the school. Godbey said of the four, all were on track to be the first in their families to go to college. All but one were going to be the first to graduate high school.

Those success stories, grounded as they are in the Young Women’s Leadership Network’s philosophy of rigorous, hands-on education, really come down to something very simple–belief.

“Prior to this experience, they may have never felt that about themselves. They are often from families that have been disenfranchised from education, that don’t value education, that don’t even think education is a possibility,” he said. “What I see is the only difference in these girls is the belief that they can do it. It’s about shifting the paradigm so these girls believe they’re capable. And they will rise to the occasion. They all have the capacity.”

Taking a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) approach to teaching–with a focus on inquiry-and project-based learning, LATW also plans to use a “whole girl” model, Godbey said, which includes teaching healthy life choices and promoting self-esteem.

“In this demographic we are trying to reach, there is statistically low attendance, high pregnancy rates and high drug usage, so the model is not just about education,” he noted. “But we’re not reinventing the wheel; we’re using a proven method, the success of which has been tremendous.”

Godbey and members of Young Women Leading, Inc., are in the process of locating a site for LATW. If approved by the State Board of Education, they will spend the next year planning for the school’s opening, which will let in 75 sixth graders, then add a grade each year for seven years.

It may be, as that student in Austin said, a hard program, but Godbey believes it will make a lasting impact on the lives of young women who graduate as leaders ready to make a difference in the world.

“I’m so excited about bringing this to Wilmington,” he said. “Changing the trajectory of those kids’ lives means so much, not only to the kids but to the community as a whole.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.