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Education Read Fort Worth gets new executive director

Read Fort Worth gets new executive director

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Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

Elizabeth Brands, Head of Education Giving at The Morris Foundation, has been named executive director of Read Fort Worth.

Brands will maintain her responsibilities at The Morris Foundation with the role of executive director of Read Fort Worth as a key priority, Matt Rose, the chairman of the Read Fort Worth Executive Council said in an announcement on the organization’s website.

Read Fort Worth is a coalition of business, civic, education, philanthropic, nonprofit and volunteer leaders working to ensure that 100 percent of Fort Worth third-graders are reading to learn – not learning to read – by 2025.

The program is the brainchild of, among others, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent P. Scribner.

The Morris Foundation and Read Fort Worth are in a formal collaborative agreement, with Brands serving on the Read Fort Worth Collaborative Action Networks and Executive Council.

“My participation on both has given me the higher-level and on the ground perspective of Read Fort Worth’s work,” Brands said.

The Morris Foundation’s new business plan, rolled out to the community Aug. 22 and featured in the Sept. 23-29 edition of the Fort Worth Business Press, entails a focus on one key initiative in each of three giving categories – education, health care and social services, said Todd M. Liles, executive director and trustee of The Morris Foundation.

The key initiative for education, he said, is for all third graders to be reading on grade level

“Elizabeth’s leadership of Read Fort Worth is an ideal example of the new model in action,” Liles said.

“With 60% or more of her time devoted to ensuring the foundation’s key education initiative of 3rd graders reading on grade level is achieved, her leadership of Read Fort Worth is the optimal way for her to channel her efforts and attain maximal impact for the Foundation, the ISD, and ultimately the students,” he said.

Brands replaces Anel Mercado, who became executive director Sept. 5, 2018. Mercado was former director of programs at Arizona Center for Youth Services when she was selected to succeed founding executive director Kristin Sullivan, who is now the executive director of the JPS Foundation.

Brands holds a master of education degree from the University of Notre Dame and a doctorate in education from the University of Oklahoma in educational administration curriculum and supervision.

She has been a classroom teacher and was executive director of Reading Partners in Oklahoma, where she worked to help at-risk youth master grade-level reading skills.

Price said the selection of Brands combined the best of having the foundation background and the community connection to drive Read Fort Worth forward.

“It’s already nearly 2020 and we said 100% by 2025. If anybody pushes us across the goal line it will be Elizabeth with Dr. Scribner’s help,” Price said.

“Elizabeth is going to take Read Fort Worth into the next chapter. We’re got off to a good start with the initial work that non-profits often do and now it’s time to implement those programs,” Scribner said.

“Her knowledge of the philanthropic community here in Fort Worth and well as the great partnership she has with Fort Worth ISD is going to result in a successful next chapter for Read Fort Worth,” he said.

He said it was generous of The Morris Foundation to let Brands serve as the executive director.

“We look forward to strengthening that relationship moving forward and embedding the initiatives that Read Fort Worth is developing into our schools,” he said.

Brands was a member of the Read Fort Worth Executive Council when she was named executive director.

“The new pairing of roles enables success in both, as much of the work overlaps – the goal of Read Fort Worth is the key education goal of The Morris Foundation,” Liles said. “And Elizabeth being at the helm of both, the Foundation’s new high-engagement model will be employed to the fullest extent.”

Rose said in the announcement that Brands “brings to this role a wealth of education experience including occupying key roles in collective impact efforts, as well as serving as a classroom teacher, school administrator, and most recently as Executive Director of Reading Partners where she worked alongside Tulsa Public Schools to scale some of the organization’s highest third grade reading scores.”

Reading at grade level in third grade is a significant factor in future academic and life success – and has an economic impact on society as a whole.

“It’s a strong predictor of whether or not a kid will go on to graduate from high school. We have seen across leading national research that a child who is unable to read on grade level by the end of third grade is four times less likely to graduate from high school,” Brands said.

“The next economic impact of that child can be hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community and, more importantly, to themselves individually,” she said.

Brands said low educational attainment entrenches the cycle of poverty by diminishing future earning potential in the workplace, citing U.S. Department of Education analyses showing that students without a high school diploma earned approximately 40 percent less than workers with a bachelor’s degree.

“Read Fort Worth is focusing to ensure every action we take has research and data to show its correlation to literacy improvement, Read FW’s unique value proposition of being convener, facilitator and using data to spotlight best-practices, and where is there an alignment of resources, momentum, and partnership to set us up for success,” Brands said.

She complimented “the dedicated and mission-driven elementary school teachers and leaders who work every day in our classrooms so that children can learn how to read.”

“Read FW is excited to work alongside the district, garnering the positive momentum in our community, so that every child has the reading skills needed to succeed in school and in life,” she said.

Rose, formerly the CEO of BNSF Railway Co., is chairman of the Read Fort Worth Executive Council, serving alongside Price, Scribner, Tarrant County College District Trustee Teresa Ayala, Alcon Laboratories retired CEO Kevin Buehler, AB Christian Learning Center Executive Director and Founder Loretta Burns, The Miles Foundation President & CEO Grant Coates, Darien George, Managing Partner, Mackenzie Eason, Cook Children’s Health Care System CEO & President Rick W. Merrill, Perry Reed, Chief Executive Officer at Armada Exploration and Rainwater Charitable Foundation Executive Director and Co-President Jeremy Smith.

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