Mike Steele, founding president and chief executive officer of Communities In Schools of Greater Tarrant County Inc., has announced he will retire in May of this year, the 25th anniversary of the organization’s founding.
Lindsey Garner, the nonprofit’s current chief operations officer, has been named to replace Steele upon his retirement.
“After 25 years as CEO and just celebrating my 70th birthday, it is time for new leadership, new ideas and a younger face of CIS,” Steele told the Business Press. “Lindsey Garner … is exactly who we need to take CIS to the next level.”
The program grew out of a United Way Stay-in-School Task Force in 1990 and 1991 that looked at the dropout problem in two Fort Worth ISD high schools. The task force concluded that a successful dropout prevention program required a holistic response because the problem was a community one and not confined solely to the schools.
He’s proud of the agency’s growth. “Starting with under 200 kids in two schools, we now serve about 5,000 each year in 57 schools in nine school districts. Over the years, the total number of young people is in the tens of thousands,” Steele said.
“Many are in college, many have graduated, some are teachers, some are CPS workers and some are CIS social workers right here in Fort Worth and other places,” he said. “Kids who were not given very high chances of graduating, are making a real difference in our community.”
The mission is important. “Every young person deserves a fair chance at the American dream and way too many come into this world with the odds stacked against them. Not any fault of theirs or their parents, but generational poverty is a tough adversary and it can rob young people of hope and dreams,” Steele said.
CIS and its more than 80 partner agencies work with both students and families, but the fact that it is from within the schools is important for the students.
“They need somebody that they can trust and talk to and who is available to them where they are – at school,” Steele said. “Schools cannot do everything by themselves and we should not expect them to try. But, working together, this community can do just about anything. School is the way out; and up for most of our kids.”
Steele will be honored at the organization’s 25th anniversary fundraising gala entitled “Taking Flight – Helping Students Achieve New Heights” on Friday, May 12, at Ridglea Country Club. The theme is a nod to Steele’s military career prior to his joining the organization. Steele was in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years and was a pilot. He spent two years as an executive director of a drug and alcohol prevention agency before coming to CIS.