Ruby Houston Retires With Rich History
[Press release from CMS, photos by our News of Davidson photographers.]
Ruby Houston, family and community services specialist, has worked for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for 36 years. Her history with the district goes back much further. A native of Davidson, she was part of the first integrated class at North Mecklenburg High.
“Other African-American students volunteered to go before me, but I was part of the first full class of 1965,” she said. “We called ourselves the journey class and still stay in touch.”
Houston went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Barber-Scotia College and a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She joined the district in 1986. Her experiences with school integration inspired her. “Something was instilled in me after experiencing racial discrimination to spend my life helping people break down barriers,” said Houston. “I’ve had the joy of participating in meaningful family and community engagement. I think my whole career has been about getting into good trouble.”
She started a parent resource center at Billingsville Elementary where a 12-hour workday was the norm. “We’d have resources for parents available until 8 p.m.,” she said.
She helped create a parent resource center at Plaza Road Preschool with a learning lab that offered parenting classes. The district transitioned to more site-based management, and Houston moved to Thomasboro Elementary. “This was one of my favorite places,” said Houston.
At Thomasboro, she worked closely with faith and community partners. She partnered with Central Piedmont Community College to create Even Start, a program for parents to earn their General Education Development diploma. Parents from ages 18 to 54 were able to attend school with their children and earn their diploma. “Our PTA met and we made homemade hats and tassels so the parents could march to Pomp and Circumstance at the PTA meeting with their students.”
In such a large school district, parents can often feel overlooked. That’s where Houston would come in. “One of the things I pride myself on is taking these calls, filtering them out to schools and helping to find solutions. Those were the happiest days for me, when I could help children stay in school or help parents who were angry feel heard and helped.”
Houston has always been laser-focused on creating and maintaining relationships. She had a number of cars in 36 years, all of them with thousands of miles driving for the district. “I drive as far as from Davidson to Berryhill, which is almost in Gaston County,” she said. “If I am assigned to 28 schools, I need to know all the principals, staff and families at those schools. I need to be in buildings and get in the faces of the people and communicate. The teachers are wearing so many hats and doing so much. The principals and counselors need backup and partners. That is where I come in.”
Houston has supported schools with Parent University, Family Instruction Teams, community resource fairs, parent-teacher associations and professional development opportunities. “Each of these initiatives empowers parents to understand the process, and that firsthand knowledge has improved dropout and graduation rates,” said Houston.
There are several initiatives that make Houston particularly proud. She helped facilitate the first meeting for Pat Millen to discuss the idea for E2D, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating the digital divide. “I know the first student who received a laptop from E2D,” said Houston. “She is now a student at North Carolina A&T. She is doing great. This program works.”
When the district transitioned to remote learning last year, Houston was immediately concerned about the students in her region who are at risk for food insecurity. “These aren’t problems that were created by the pandemic,” she said. “The need was always there.” She worked closely with faith and community partners to provide meals for students in need. Representatives from Davidson College left food for students on Houston’s porch, and she dropped it off at Berryhill herself. “We had a community coming together to help, and I was able to help connect those resources to people in need. I am really proud that we were able to serve 80,000 meals.”
Houston will miss a lot about CMS, especially the relationships that she has with her colleagues. “We are a team that moves quickly and gets stuff done,” she said. “During the pandemic, our team has been like soldiers on the ground helping people.”
Her colleague, Reneisha Black, said Houston will be missed. “Ruby’s high work ethic, leadership and commitment to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community will be greatly missed,” said Black. “Her dedication to serving CMS families with compassion and understanding has been a rare gift to everyone whose path she has crossed. I truly wish Ruby much success in her next chapter and will continue to try and live the many lessons I have learned from her.
Houston tried to retire a year ago. She filled out the paperwork in January of 2020 but found herself struggling with the decision. “I really wanted to continue working for the system and with Earnest Winston as superintendent,” she said. “I’ve had the great experience of working with him as part of our department, and I really wanted to keep working with him.”
Winston said he is thankful for the opportunity to work with Houston. “Her warm and caring spirit is truly irreplaceable,” he said. “The lives she’s touched cannot be counted. There are many students and adults, including me, who are better for crossing paths with her. The legacy that she is leaving in our district and community can never truly be measured.”
When COVID-19 started to impact CMS, Houston decided to delay her retirement. “I felt like I was abandoning the system in a time of great need, and so I decided to stay and help as much as I could. But now is the right time.”
Houston does hope to stay engaged. “I have some young cousins that I am helping as they come up through our district,” she said. “I want to be able to help them and be able to answer people’s questions. I am involved in many community organizations and plan to continue that.”
Houston and her sister, Karen, are caretakers for her 95-year-old mother. Houston is looking forward to spending more time with family and said, “I am also looking forward to a nice, long nap!”