Bright Spots showcase the work that Grade-Level Reading communities are doing to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016.  Continue reading below or Download a PDF version.

Since launching its Grade-Level Reading Campaign in 2011, the eastern Iowa community of Dubuque has earned some early successes.


“We had a head start,” says Eric Dregne, vice president of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, the GLR community lead organization.

Because Dubuque was already pursuing an ambitious cradle-to-career initiative called Every Child/Every Promise, it had the fundamentals for an effective GLR Campaign — an informed community engaged in improving children’s prospects, strong leadership within a well-functioning network and data-gathering prowess.

“We’d been working together since 2006 and spent time developing partnerships. The relationships, trust and work that we had done to understand the situation — we had that foundation. We had been looking at data,” says Dregne, also Every Child/Every Promise’s executive director.

“Then the Campaign came along with this great outcomes-based framework. It gave us more tools, information, resources and ways to engage the network. It was a perfect storm.”

The GLR work largely proved a good fit with Every Child/Every Promise but revealed a few gaps, says Dregne. For example, Every Child/Every Promise’s “Out-of-School Time” strategy — increasing after-school programs for middle school students — broadened to include the GLR focus to increase summer options for younger children.

There were challenges. Some Dubuque leaders focused on increasing the high school graduation rate did not immediately embrace GLR’s third-grade reading proficiency strategy. Some did not view “attendance” as an issue because schools had a high average daily attendance rate.

But minds changed after fresh data showed a correlation between Dubuque’s graduation rate and third-grade reading proficiency — and after attendance data, viewed through a different lens, revealed that many students were chronically absent.

Again, Dubuque’s experience paid off. Leaders had learned to use data to gently puncture “The Lake Wobegon effect” that “things are pretty darned good here,” says Dregne. “To tackle issues around [our] young people, we had to put data out there.” 

Existing relationships also created mutual trust. “That social capital is what made us able to jump off to a quick start with the Campaign,” says Dregne. 

That start includes an all-day five-week summer learning program for at-risk children who just completed kindergarten and first grade in the Dubuque Community Schools. In 2014, the program’s capacity will double, serving about 100 students. Of the 47 students in the program’s 2013 pilot, 82 percent maintained or improved their reading proficiency. 

Dubuque’s GLR effort also has benefited because leaders value the importance of:  

  • Engaging residents through community-visioning to discuss aspirations and goals.
  • Making the case for change in a non-threatening way, with winning pitches like: “What if, as a community, we all knew how our kids are doing and help our educators and providers succeed?” 
  • Finding a resonant message that makes the intangible concrete.  Every Child/Every Promise struggled to engage people around “early childhood,” but the GLR emphasis on “school readiness,” as an outcome of early childhood strategies, clicked with people.
  • Using what works. “We want to find the best practices,” says Dregne, not “reinvent the wheel or stumble around in Dubuque doing less effective things.
  • Following the “collective impact” model, an intentional approach to community collaboration detailing what it takes to effectively address a complex challenge – including a common agenda, shared measurements, mutually-reinforcing activities, continuous communication and a strong backbone organization.
  • Investing in capacity-building by developing a diverse network including schools, nonprofits, business leaders and the early childhood community; creating a thorough plan for partners to work together; and determining the data needed to measure progress.
  • Swiftly launching pilot projects that allow partners to refine their collaboration and produce “early wins” that sustain enthusiasm for a complex long-term campaign.

“Those are really important to keep the network engaged and show promise,” says Dregne. “But we have our eye on systems change and things that take a few years.”


For more information, contact Eric Dregne at 563-588-2700 or

Photos: Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque; Publication Date: Spring 2014 

You can nominate a Bright Spot in your community by emailing Betsy Rubiner at

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of The Huddle to add comments!

Join The Huddle