Let’s begin at the start. It’s 2007, and Charlene Gladney is leading Bible study at her church’s youth group. About half of the group is planning to drop out of school when they turn sixteen, the legal age for such a decision in North Carolina. What’s more, they aim to pursue careers in manufacturing, an industry that Gladney knows is in decline. If dropout prevention is key, it is even more so in this case. That’s how Operation Xcel started—as a dropout prevention program.
Today, sixteen years later, Operation Xcel has evolved into a well-established organization dedicated to inspiring learners to excel in all aspects of their lives through mentorship, summer programs, and after-school initiatives characterized by academic rigor. As stated in their philosophy, Operation Xcel goes beyond the students; they also engage with the parents and community “to increase educational, social, and career skills through academic enrichment, parenting, and advocacy empowerment workshops.”
Charlene Gladney, Founder and Executive Director of Operation Xcel, firmly believes education can put students into a different trajectory and transform their lives. That’s what Operation Xcel aims to do—expand the worldview of their students. All their programs are free and meant for low-income students.
Success is a Result of Teamwork
Charlene Gladney is clear about how success is achieved—it’s all about teamwork; both the family and the staff play a crucial role. Every day she repeats the same affirmation to encourage a sense of belonging and to uphold Operation Xcel’s values:
“We are Operation Xcel. We are people who aspire to high aspirations. We are people of true character, wisdom, humility, and kindness, and we expect that from our students. I expect that from the staff. We expect that we all have each other’s back.”
Seeing the impact they make on students is the very thing that keeps Gladney motivated. Operation Xcel’s students have gone to college and have started their own businesses. Many have enrolled their children into the beloved center so that their children have the same high-quality experience. “It’s very rewarding to see the success of my students,” shared Gladney during our interview.
While success can take various forms, all are equally significant. Gladney recalls a sixth grader who started at Operation Xcel with a second-grade reading level. After one year of programming, including after-school and summer programs, she advanced four levels, reaching a sixth-grade reading level. “Of course, she was going to the seventh grade, so she was still one year behind.” The following year, she not only caught up but also exceeded expectations for her grade level. She transformed from a shy and withdrawn child into a confident and animated one, even joining the softball and wrestling team. “These types of stories really inspire me,” said Charlene.
AfterSchool HQ’s Contribution to Success
Operation Xcel had already transitioned to a system for program management, but it proved to be unintuitive and unmanageable. “We were literally pulling out our hair,” their director remembered. The AfterSchool HQ platform has significantly improved their daily operations, making them “much smoother and less daunting.”
The positive change started from day one when Operation Xcel set up their account on AfterSchool HQ. The AHQ team seamlessly migrated all their data to a new account without any loss, guided the Operation Xcel team through the processes, and ensured the data’s integrity. “It was a fantastic experience working with AfterSchool HQ,” Gladney noted.
The Operation Xcel team has successfully implemented automatic payments, coupons, and scholarships, all made easier with AfterSchool HQ, as it is already integrated into the system. Site directors no longer need to manually calculate each parent’s payment or issue receipts.
The AHQ team held meetings with Operation Xcel site managers to help them set up activities, manage registrations, and meet specific grant requirements; they even added fields for specific data collection. “They made sure that we understood the system and were able to meet those demands.” Operation Xcel describes the AfterSchool HQ team as highly flexible and “the best in the world.”
AfterSchool HQ has also extended its customer support beyond the Operation Xcel team to parents, assisting them with the registration process and parent orientations, as well as ensuring they have everything they need to successfully enroll in activities.
More About Operation Xcel:
Located in Guilford County, North Carolina, Operation Xcel covers Greensboro, High Point, Jamestown, and Stokesdale. Their programs include rigorous academic activities conducted by certified teachers of Guilford County Schools, with 51% of them holding postgraduate degrees.