Fort Worth unveils plan for childhood literacy backed by schools, business leaders

Mayor Price at 100X25

Fort Worth city, education, business and nonprofit leaders gathered together Monday morning to officially announce a new plan to make childhood literacy a community goal.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Fort Worth Independent School District Superintendent Kent Scribner and others from area business, education, nonprofit and faith-based organizations were there for the kick off.

The literacy initiative has the goal of having 100 percent of third graders reading at grade level by 2025, a key for students achievement, according to several educational studies. 

“Fort Worth has built a reputation as a big city with a small-town feel, one known for its thriving business, cultural, philanthropic and educational institutions,” said Price. “It’s time for us to focus on increasing excellence in our elementary schools and teaching all of our children to be confident readers early on. It’s critical to our city’s economic vitality and future success.”

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Price was spurred to turn education advocacy into action last year after two prospective business owners decided that Austin – not Fort Worth – schools were better prepared than educate and train future workers.

She quickly found allies in former Congressman Pete Geren, who now heads the Richardson Foundation, and BNSF Railroad Chair Matt Rose, who supports many causes for children and families.

Geren advised Price to seize the “golden opportunity” to work with new Fort Worth school Superintendent Kent Scribner, who welcomed the proffered help to improve student achievement.

Rose, after some research and soul-searching, agreed to head a new Fort Worth literacy partnership, which was formally launched Sept. 26 at Oakhurst Elementary, whose students are outshining other schools with similar economic and ethnic demographics.

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The partnership’s aim is to ensure that all third graders are reading on grade level by 2025. Admittedly a lofty goal in a district where only 30 percent of third-graders now read on grade level, the key partners say it’s achievable if everyone works together.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation says that 75 percent of students who struggle with reading in third grade never catch up, and that those students are four times as likely to drop out of high school.

“Childhood literacy can determine success in all subjects, including math and science,” Scribner said. “This unprecedented venture will ensure all children in Fort Worth are prepared for success in college, career, and community leadership.”

Rose, who served as president and CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway before moving into the executive chairman role in 2014, said the effort is important for companies based here and looking to move here. 

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“Corporations and businesses that consider establishing their headquarters in Fort Worth want to be in areas where employees can find great schools for their children,” Rose said. “This city is fortunate to have a strong network of private, charter and religious schools. But this will be an even better city for business when we elevate more Fort Worth ISD elementary schools.”

According to the organization, third-grade literacy can determine success in all subjects for years to come, including math and science. Until third grade, children are learning to read. After that, they are reading to learn. Studies show that 75 percent of children who struggle with reading in third grade never catch up, according tot he organization.

“Mayor Price and Superintendent Scribner energized the discussion,” Rose said. “We’ve attracted our philanthropic community. If we all pull the rope in the same direction, we can help our schools and students.”

The partnership, which already includes a dozen foundations, government, nonprofit and business entities, will spend the first year inventorying existing programs to see which programs can be replicated in other schools, Scribner and Rose said.

“We’re really talking about methodology more than programs,” Charles Carroll, the district’s chief academic officer said. “Instead of 80 programs, we should be looking at eight programs that are working.”

But the city is already looking at including literacy programs in 2017 summer programs in libraries, community centers and other city programs, Rose and Price said.

“So many childhood activities take place outside of school, we can use them to promote literacy,” Price said.

In addition to the city, school district and BNSF, the partnership already includes seven community foundations, the United Way of Tarrant County and the Commit! Partnership, which has analyzed and will continue to analyze data underlying the initiative. The partnership also plans to publicize and seek more community involvement, Rose said.

Kristin Sullivan, a former reporter and editor and communications associate vice-president at the Texas at Arlington associate vice-president, is executive director of the partnership.

“She has deep roots in this community and hit the ground running,” Rose said.