A two-time winner of the All America City-Grade Level Reading Award and a 2016 GLR Pacesetter, the city of Roanoke is doubling down on helping parents succeed as their children's first teacher, brain buider, tech navigator, advocate and coach.
Following a community celebration last month with Campaign Manager Director Ralph Smith, leaders of Star City Reads are looking at how best to support parents in all those critical roles.
"Now the focus is shifting to supporting families and parent engagment," said Marrisa Blankinship, Community Services Assistant for Roanoke Pubic Libraries-- the lead organization for the local GLR campaign. Star City Reads partners will re-convene for a community project to see how they can identify and close gaps in services for low-income children and families before they all through cracks, she said.
In addition, Roanoke leaders also will work to identify and tap into the social networks families trust and get their input on what they need to help strenghten and empower parents of young children.
At the celebration, Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea (pictured at right) said the city also must work to assure all children start school healthy and ready to learn.
"While our city has made great progress there is more we can do. We can make sure our kids are healthy enough to go to kindergarten and healthy enought go to school every day," he said. "We can build a book rich city that encourage learning at all ages. An investment in our children's educaiton is an investment in our city's future."
Smith praised Roanoke for its progress not only in moving the needle on third grade reading proficiency, but also in closing the gap on that measure between low-income children and their better off peers. In 2012-13, 60.5 percent of low-income students passed the state's reading test, compared to 73.5 percent last year. That 13 percentage point gain is better than the rate for all 3rd graders in Roanoke CIty Public Schools -- 11 percent, or from 65.1 percent in 2012-13 to 76.1 percent last year.
Roanoke also has made gains in summer learning, school readiness and school attendance since 2012-13. Smith attributed Roanoke's success in part to a set of factors shared by other GLR communities making progress, inclduing shared ownership of the goal of improving third grade reading proficiency for low-income children and joint accountability for results among the 28 members of the Star City Reads coalition. In addition city leaders such as Mayor Lea, RPS Superintendent Rita Bishop and Shelia Umberger, director of Roanoke Public Libaries have played invaluable roles in the Campaign since it started in 2012.
"What you have in Roanoke are a number of people who see themselves as stewards of this effort, who understand this is a long game and if we want to win the long game, we have to have people who are going to be around for a while," he said.
Smith affirmed the city's move to accelerate focus on parent success.
"My challenge to you is take ont the Wayne Gretsky approach: Do not skate to where the puck is but to where it's going to be. Over the next several years, you will hear the Campaign becoming increasingly insistent that we have to take on the only 100 percent solution we know ... helping parents be the best parents they can be. We have to take that up because that is where the puck will be. What is our responsiblity and obligation, and what is the opporutnity, to engage parents meaningfully so that they can be agents of change and full partners in heping their kids find the path out of poverty?"
Update: Go here to listen to interviews with Mayor Lea, Umberger, Bishop and Smith.