In a ceremony last month with Governor Kim Reynolds, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading formally presented Iowa with the GLR Pacesetter Award for exemplary statewide contributions to early school success. 

"Iowa is proud to be recognized as a Pacesetter by the Campaign for Grade Level Reading,” said Governor Reynolds. “This award recognizes what Iowans have known for a long time: If we want kids reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade, on a path to high school graduation and career success, then it will take local leaders, educators, businesses, community foundations, colleges and universities working together to make sure that happens for all our children."

Ralph Smith, Managing Director of the Campaign, noted Iowa’s achievements in recent years. They include emergence of a statewide philanthropic network, steady leadership at the local and state level, and passage of the the state’s Early Literacy Law – which led to development of early warning and response systems to aid struggling readers.

Such accomplishments have helped Iowa expand from six Campaign communities in 2012 to seven in 2017, with Ames, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Dubuque, Dyersville, and Quad Cities earning community Pacesetter Honors last year.

Council Bluffs, Des Moines, and Dubuque also won the 2017 All America City-Grade Level Reading Award.

Iowa GLR leaders gathered with Smith before and after the ceremony to explore how to build on their success.

Suzanne Mineck, president and CEO of the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, helped lead a consultative discussion with the state GLR leaders.

Capacity to learn from a range of divergent viewpoints about how to assure more low-income kids are healthy and prepared for success in the early grades was one theme that emerged from the discussion, Mineck noted.

For example, many advocates and policy makers agree quality early health care is critical to moving the needle on third grade reading proficiency.

But big questions remain on the policy and funding changes needed to help service providers and state systems reach the kids and families who need help the most.

“Whose role is it to meet these varied and complex needs of our children and families?” said Mineck. “That is where you get varied opinions … how to do we engage in that dialog so that there is a collective role and responsibility to better address those needs and barriers earlier rather than later.”

Kari McCann Boutell, president of the Iowa Council of Foundations, said another sign of progress is the formation of the Education Funders Network, a group of about 30 local and state foundations that supports Iowa Campaign communities.  

The Network helps advance the notion of “more than money” philanthropy, Boutell said.

In many communities, funders were at the table from the start and play a backbone role in convening partners and keeping the work moving forward with their leadership and expertise.

“That is not something philanthropy has been great on in the past couple years,” she noted. “The Campaign has asked for that commitment and funders in Iowa have risen to the challenge.”

Jean Kresse, president and CEO of the United Way of Storey Countyand leader of the Ames Campaign for Grade Level Reading – which won a Pacesetter in 2016 for its work to improve school readiness and attendance -- liked celebrating progress with an eye on doing more of what works.

That includes leveraging the statewide network of GLR communities and funders, she said.

“Having someone like (GLR Senior Consultant and Iowa lead) Becky Miles Polka in our state to help us is a big plus. She’s been the connecting link. I can call Quad Cities or Cedar Rapids and know we are all working toward the same results.”

The ability to call on the GLR Support Center and tap into the expertise of Campaign partners such as Attendance Works also helps communities like Ames connect to the national movement around grade level reading.

“I think that gives us credibility,” Kresse said. “It would fall flat if we could not convene partners, but we have a leg up and a head start because have a state and national network. The governor knows who we are.”


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