During the 2017 GLR Week in Denver, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading inducted four individuals into its Council of Champions
Rhonda H. Lauer serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Foundations, Inc., a national nonprofit organization committed to improving the quality of education for all children. Ms. Lauer has guided Foundations' strategic growth over the past 20 years, focusing on three critical areas of impact: improving schools and school systems, transforming out-of-school time, and engaging families and communities in education.
Under Ms. Lauer’s leadership, Foundations has convened the annual Beyond School Hours® National Education Conference for the past two decades. The conference offers educators the tools and knowledge they need to transform their students into lifelong readers. With grade-level reading and literacy as a consistent and popular content strand, hundreds of workshops have been offered to those working across the learning day to help students build the strong language and literacy skills critical to their success
Dr. Martha Bruckner is superintendent of Iowa’s Council Bluffs School District. Since she took on the job in 2007, Dr. Bruckner has been a state and national leader in connecting the dots between school readiness, attendance and summer learning in ways that help assure third-grade reading success.
In her last year as Superintendent in 2016, Council Bluffs made significant gains in school readiness, school attendance, summer learning and overall grade-level reading for children from low-income families. From spring 2014 to spring 2016, in Council Bluffs Community School District the percentage of children meeting kindergarten readiness criteria rose more than 10 points, from 82.2 percent to 92.7 percent. The percentage of first graders who were chronically absent fell from 6.9 percent in 2012–13 to 5.3 percent in 2014–15. The percentage of second graders improving their reading proficiency levels over the summer increased from 7.7 percent in 2015 to 12.5 percent in 2016. There was also an increase in the percentage of third-grade children reading at the proficient level, from 28.7 percent in 2014 to 44.4 percent in 2016.
State and local education leaders say Council Bluffs is proof positive of how school districts do best for low-income kids when goals are clear, resources are used wisely and – most important – the leadership is inspirational. Especially in her work to promote grade-level reading success, Dr. Bruckner also demonstrates how schools and communities can mobilize together to assure more hopeful futures for vulnerable kids. In the process, she helped set the pace for other school district and civic leaders across the state.
As one of the primary sponsors of the Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development (READ) Act, former State Senator Mike Johnston demonstrated how knowledge about an issue is formed not just by research and evidence but also by the wisdom of lived experience.
In addition to graduating from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and becoming one of the nation’s leading education reform experts, Johnston’s experience includes teaching for two years in the Mississippi Delta and serving as principal of a public high school that became one of the first in Colorado history to send all its graduating seniors to college.
Johnston helped assure that the Colorado READ Act, passed by the legislature in 2012, accelerated emphasis on rigorous kindergarten-through-grade-three literacy instruction and development of individual intervention plans for students reading below proficient level in those grades.
With his leadership on the READ Act, Johnston helped Colorado put a stake in the ground on grade-level reading by the end of third grade, making it a policy priority; a target for increased public, private and philanthropic investment; a performance measure for schools and school districts; and a catalyst for civic action. He showed how policymakers can translate their experience and values into bold action, driven by a ferocious belief in the ability of all children to succeed.
Sandra Gutierrez is the Founder and National Director of Abriendo Puertas /Opening Doors, the nation’s first evidence-based, comprehensive training program developed for and with Latino parents with young children.
Since its founding in 2007, Abriendo Puertas has worked with more than 400 family-serving organizations to provide its curriculum in Spanish and English to some 80,000 parents in 300 cities across the United States. Training is based on an appreciation for the wisdom parents and communities already possess, and on a belief that parents are the experts when it comes to raising their children.
Under the leadership of Ms. Gutierrez, Abriendo Puertas has thus helped lead a movement not just to engage low-income parents in work to assure low-income children are healthy and prepared to succeed in school, but to empower them as their children’s primary brain developers, first teachers and best advocates.
Ms. Gutierrez also has played a key role in the development of “two-generation” approaches that seek to simultaneously provide opportunities for low-income children and their parents through coordinated preschool and workforce development programs and other strategies. She has also advised efforts to build the cultural competence and capacity of schools and other institutions to engage and empower parents effectively.
Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, noted the four join former Providence Mayor Angel Tavares, who was named a GLR Champion in October, 2014 and Kansas City Mayor Sylvester "Sly" James, who was recognized in Spring 2016, on the Council.
Smith used the induction ceremony to announce the Campaign's plans to support GLR Communities in identifying, selecting and recognizing up to 1000 GLR Champions during the next 18 months.
Champions can be exemplary volunteers, early care and education providers, school and civic leaders, public officials and others who communities nominate based on their alliance with and support for local and state-wide efforts to support early grade success, Smith said to about 400 people attending the 2017 All America Cities-Grade Level Reading Award ceremony.
"We expect the criteria will be broad and flexible and each community will decide each year who are the one, two three or four people who are their Champions."
Over 300 Early care and education providers and parent advocates from across the country convened last month in Washington, D.C. for Child Care Aware® of America's (CCAoA) annual Policy Summit on Capitol Hill. GLR Managing Director Ralph Smith participated in a panel exploring one of the summit's hot topics -- navigating the philanthropic landscape during changes in federal administrations.
Joining Smith on the panel were M. Gasby Brown, CEO of Bridge Philanthropic Consulting and a faculty member at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy’s Fund Raising School, Tasha L. Cole, Vice President, Resource Development for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Alex Daniels, a staff writer for The Chronicle of Philanthropy Todd M. Yeatts, Senior Manager for Government Operations at Boeing.
Dawn L. Brown, Director of Business Development and Fundraising for CCAoA, moderated the panel and afterwards noted that the crowd of about 50 child care advocates, providers and parents left with a renewed focus on working their respective networks to build enduring relationships with foundations, corporations and individual donors.
"The philanthropy panel was one of our overall highest-rated sessions on our Policy Panel Participant Surveys. People definitely felt they walked away with new strategies to consider for their development plans for the fiscal next year and with a better understanding of the landscape," she said. Smith helped participants put changes in federal administration's in historical context and made clear the vital contributions child care providers and parents make to children's early development and literacy, which are crucial to 3rd grade reading success, Brown added.
Smith also noted that in a resource-challenged environment, child care providers and their supporters must show not only how many children they are serving but the difference they are making in their overall well-being and how they are helping parents succeed as brain developers and first teachers. 'Organized philanthropy has a bias for problem solving," he said.
GLR Campaign Managing Director Ralph Smith spoke earlier this month to the Rotary Club of Washington, D.C. It is one of the oldest Rotary Clubs in America -- established in 1912, about six years after the founding of Rotary International. Smith noted the Club's efforts to promote literacy in the nation's capital, including distribution of free dictionaries to about 50,000 third graders since 2006. He also praised the nearly two dozen Rotary Clubs that are part of local GLR Campaign Coalitions across they country.
Literacy is one of Rotary International's six core service goals, and clubs around the world seek to strengthen the ability of local communities to assure all youth and adults are able to read.
"We were moved by Ralph's story that an alarming number of children -- about 67 percent nationwide and 80 percent of those from low-income families -- are not proficient readers by the end of third grade," said DC Rotary Club President Ross Grantham. "The Campaign's commitment to reverse this trend means a lot to Rotary, an organization committed over its entire 112-year history to service those in need. We applaud the Campaign's efforts and look forward to staying connected as their hard work to find common sense solutions at federal, state and local levels continues."
Earlier this month, GLR Campaign Managing Director Ralph Smith and Ron Fairchild, Director of the GLR Support Center, updated the National Civic League Board on the 2017 All-America Cities Grade-Level Reading Award, which will mark the second time since 2012 that the nation's premier award for civic vitality has focused on increasing early grade-level reading proficiency for low-income children.
Smith and Fairchild thanked the League for catalyzing the growth of the Campaign's Network through the 2012 Awards, which honored the first cohort of AAC-GLR honorees and have led to a Communities Network that has grown from about 120 communities that year to more than 300 in 2017, including more than 2500 local organizations and 250 state and local funders, including 230 United Ways. The National Civic League also has helped amplify the Campaign's messages to civic leaders nationally about the importance of school readiness, attendance, summer learning and parent success.
"Our partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a natural, since community education efforts often lend themselves to civic engagement. We are inspired by the many stories of Campaign communities rallying around the cause of improving opportunities for young people," said NCL President Douglas Linkhart. "The Campaign’s push for collaboration and measurable outcomes meshes perfectly with our call for civic engagement to make everyone part of the solution to issues like early literacy."
At the 20th Annual Beyond School Hours Conference, GLR Managing Director Ralph Smith was awarded the Champion of Children's Award, given by conference sponsor Foundations Inc.. in recognition of outstanding commitment to helping the nation's most vulnerable children and families achieve brighter futures through quality education.
Foundations, Inc. CEO and President Rhonda Lauer praised Smith and the Campaign for making grade-level reading by the end of third grade a policy and practice priority for communities large and small across the country.
Something is wrong when 65 percent of fourth graders in public schools are reading below proficiency level in 2015, Lauer said. Thanks to the Campaign “finally we have governors, mayors and city councils talking about getting kids to read on grade level.”
In a videotaped message, Annie E. Casey Foundation President Patrick McCarthy praised Smith's "rare combination of brilliance, commitment, and passion," his work leading Casey's Making Connections initiative to improve the lives of vulnerable families living in poverty, and his mentorship of hundreds of leaders in the child and family advocacy field.
In his remarks, Smith thanked the 1500 school-and-community based after-school and summer program providers in attendance at the event for giving voice to the fact that "schools can't do it alone ... and the understanding that schools can't do it alone sits at the core of a movement that brings all of us to this room and charges us all to do what we can to help."
GLR Support Center Director Ron Fairchild moderated a panel at the conference, Creating High Impact Approaches to Grade Level Reading and Literacy, with Lauer, Jane Quinn, Director of the National Center for Community Schools, Sylvia Lyles, Director of the Office of Academic Improvement Programs for the U.S. Department of Education, and Debra Mahone, grants project director for Elgin Independent School District in Elgin, Texas. Panelists agreed that community-school partnerships must make steady and intentional efforts to focus on results, use good data and engage in smart advocacy.
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