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In February 2014, The Belk Foundation convened nearly two dozen representatives from a number of local foundations, businesses, the school district, and the library to discuss a community crisis: according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress only 40% of Charlotte’s third graders were reading on grade level.

National research indicated third-grade reading was a strong indicator of both high school graduation and college matriculation. Although Charlotte-Mecklenburg was better than the average for large public cities (26%) and the national average (34%), this wasn’t good enough for these leaders.

This initial conversation led to a commitment by this group to organize a Third Grade Reading Task Force to which met five times in 2014 to review key research, build on past community efforts and to define the goal, scope and pillars of a potential community-wide collective impact effort around early childhood literacy.

Based on the input received from local and national experts, and feedback from community focus groups, the Task Force decided to move forward with a bold goal to double third grade reading outcomes over the next decade.  What started as a community conversation began to take shape as a community initiative. The Foundation For The Carolinas agreed to serve as the fiscal agent. The College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte offered to provide a graduate research assistant. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library offered to provide office space. An early coalition of funders began to commit $5 million to cover the first five years of the initiative.

In early 2015 the Task Force reorganized as the governing board of the newly named Read Charlotte. A national search for an executive director was launched with support from Raleigh-based Elinvar. In February 2015—one year after The Belk Foundation convened the first meeting—Read Charlotte publicly launched with support from local business, nonprofit, education, philanthropic, and civic leaders.

After a national search, Read Charlotte hired Munro Richardson as executive director. Richardson started full-time in late April 2015.Richardson, who moved to Charlotte from Kansas City, spent much of the summer on a listening tour, meeting with nonprofit, business, and civic leaders to learn more about Charlotte-Mecklenburg. He gave nearly 40 talks between June and December 2015 about the importance of early literacy to a variety of civic, philanthropic, nonprofit, and business groups around the community.

Richardson also recruited and hired the staff for Read Charlotte. In the summer a part-time research assistant funded by the UNC Charlotte College of Education joined the team. In the late summer and early fall Read Charlotte welcomed a full-time administrative assistant and project manager.

WORKING GROUPS

Starting in February 2015, over 200 local citizens signed up to indicate their interest in participating on one of four working groups aligned with Read Charlotte’s four pillars. In October and November we selected 38 local citizens representing a broad swath of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community to participate on the Working Groups. Each Working Group is lead by two co-chairs.

These groups worked intensively between January and September 2016 to develop a ten-year strategic plan and set of community indicators to track progress. They’ve accomplished these specific goals so far:

  1. Determined the community indicators we will use to measure and track progress towards achieving our goal.
  2. Identified specific strategies with the greatest potential to improve third grade reading outcomes.
  3. Made recommendations for the Strategic Action Framework.

The Working Groups report to Read Charlotte’s Governing Board and help choose and implement strategies, engage community members, and track progress towards achieving our goal of doubling reading proficiency to 80% by 2025. The Governing Board makes final decisions regarding Read Charlotte’s strategies and investments.

SYSTEMS CHANGE

In January 2016, Read Charlotte hosted the first of three systems change workshops. By “system” we mean the set of interacting and interdependent component parts (families, child care programs, schools, public agencies, nonprofits, etc.) that collectively affect how children develop as readers from birth through third grade. We need to understand how this system works and develop a set of strategies to improve how its parts work together to raise third grade reading proficiency for children across Charlotte-Mecklenburg. At the first workshop, 111 participants were introduced to “systems thinking.” 

Following the January workshop, we survey over 3,000 families, educators, students, providers and funders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This was accomplished in six weeks with the assistance of over three-dozen nonprofit agencies across the community. The United Way of Central Carolinas hosted 32 community conversations with families, educators and students. This information as used to create a “system scan” for the community. The second workshop took place on May 9 and 10, and again included over 100 participants. Participants learned root cause analysis to evaluate the system scan data and identify underlying causes of system outcomes. 

The third and final systems change workshop is scheduled to take place in November 2016.