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Coalition Participates in the Launch of Grade-Level Reading Campaign


By S. Kwesi Rollins
Director of Leadership Programs for Institute for Educational Leadership

Earlier this month the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading convened two important and overlapping events which marked the official launch of the Grade-Level Reading Communities Network.  The GLR Campaign is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, states and communities across the nation devoted to dramatically increasing the number of children from low-income families reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Aside from advocating for quality instruction for "every child every day in every setting – at home, with caregivers, in preschool, in kindergarten and in the early elementary grades," the GLR Campaign calls for creating a "seamless system of care, services and family supports for children from birth through third grade" and will promote "community-driven efforts to address key barriers to achievement by promoting children’s readiness for school, regular attendance and summer as a time to continue learning."

The first convening, June 29-30, 2012, brought over 125 national partners and funders of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to Denver, CO.  National partners and funders shared details of how their respective networks were supporting the GLR Campaign and were briefed by state and federal leaders and subject area experts on early literacy, technology and health. The Federal briefing included representatives from several departments: Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service. 
The highlight of the national partners and funders meeting was the press conference that officially launched the Grade-Level Reading Communities Network. Sacramento Mayor (and second vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors) Kevin Johnson, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras each gave rousing talks about the importance of the campaign and why grade-level reading was a priority. "We realize that we cannot have great cities without great public schools," said Kevin Johnson. Johnson has pledged to make his city the first in the nation to have all third graders reading on grade level.
During the second convening (June 30- July 2) over 600 people representing the Grade-Level Reading Communities Network came together not only on behalf of the Campaign, but also to find out if theirs was one of 14 receiving the 2012 All-America City Grade-Level Reading Award by the National Civic League. Award Applicants were required to develop "comprehensive, realistic, and sustainable plans to increase grade-level reading proficiency by the end of the third grade", and to incorporate core All-America City criteria of inclusiveness/diversity, authentic community engagement, and cross-sector collaboration. Each community plan included strategies in three key areas: school readiness, school attendance, and summer learning loss. 
Additionally, a major focus of the national network convening was preparing for the next phase of the work which was reflected in the meeting’s theme: ‘Pivoting from Planning to Performing’. In just over 2 years the network has grown to include over 125 communities representing 8 million children in 350 school districts. With the potential to impact almost 16% of all public school students in the United States, the network’s ability to make this critical ‘pivot’ from the bright idea stage to real work and outcomes on the ground is of paramount importance. Each community in the network has developed a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Action Plan’. The key step for implementing these comprehensive plans is creating (and sustaining) cross-sector coalitions and leadership structures. During a plenary entitled: "Reaching Out, Sweeping In, Building Bridges to Move the Needle", IEL’s Director of Leadership Programs, Kwesi Rollins talked about the ways in which leaders in community school initiatives are organizing to achieve collective impact on the ground and, with evidence of results for youth in achievement, attendance, graduation, parental involvement, health among other indicators, are working to scale-up local initiatives.  The collaborative leadership structures developed by local community school initiatives provide a roadmap that will be useful to GLR Campaign communities as they move from planning to performance.
There’s an obvious synergy between the goals of the GLR Campaign and the community schools strategy. The Coalition for Community Schools is a national partner of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and over 40 local community schools initiatives are active participants in this emerging network. Five of the 2012 All-America City Awardees (Baltimore, Providence, San Francisco, Springfield, MA and Seattle/South King County Cities) have active community school Initiatives and/or are connected to the Coalition for Community Schools. 

In fact, a number of local community school initiatives had already begun work to build strong linkages between early childhood programs and community schools to increase school readiness, reduce early chronic absenteeism and to reduce summer learning loss through our Early Childhood/Community Schools Linkages Project. Lessons learned through the Linkages Project have already led to improved practice and outcomes in those pilot communities (Multnomah County, Tulsa, and Albuquerque), setting the stage for expansion across the 50 plus community school initiatives across the country. Community schools have always placed a high priority on collaborative strategies that engage parents, schools, nonprofits, businesses and foundations. Supporting the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading provides another mechanism for expanding the number of communities around the country intentionally working across boundaries and collaborating around the goal of supporting vulnerable children from birth through third grade.

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