Superintendent Kent Scribner is working on a deadline that could make all the difference in personal and academic success for upcoming Fort Worth third-grade students: He wants 100 percent of them reading on grade level by 2025.
Student and demographic data reveal a daunting challenge. Only 30 percent of Fort Worth’s third-graders are reading at grade level, he said. And while 80 percent of Fort Worth’s 4-year-olds attend preschool, 50 percent of them are not kindergarten-ready, Scribner said.
Scribner said that means too many kindergarten students show up for class not knowing their numbers, colors or how to work in groups.
“Solving childhood literacy, that begins even before our children arrive on campus,” said Scribner, whose goal is included in the district’s “Countdown to Kindergarten” booklet for parents.
30percent of third-grade students in the Fort Worth school district who are reading at grade level.
The school district and the city of Fort Worth are joining forces to address the literacy issue. Later this month, they are scheduled to announce a new reading initiative designed to bring together leaders from city, business, education and social services communities to help more children read.
Matt Rose, executive chairman of Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway, will head the foundation being created to oversee the initiative. Kristin Sullivan, a former Star-Telegram reporter and editor, and most recently associate vice president for communications at UT-Arlington, will be the project’s executive director.
The foundation’s funding has not been announced, although money will likely come from businesses and philanthropic foundations. Money will not come from city coffers; instead, the city will make its contribution through programs and employee training.
Initiative is ‘laser-focused’
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price first alluded to the program in her state of the city address in February and has made references to it at council and other meetings, but details had not been revealed.
Speaking at a forum last week that also featured former Fort Worth mayors Kay Granger, Kenneth Barr and Mike Moncrief, Price talked about the importance of the initiative, which has been in the works for about 18 months.
The mayors agreed that public education is the most important issue facing Fort Worth.
Price said the project will be data-driven and urged business and community leaders to get involved. Third grade was selected because students learn to read by third grade, and from that point, read to learn, she said.
“I’ve known for years the city has had to do something,” Price said in an interview. She said the initiative is “laser-focused” and hopes its narrow mission will keep the program going, unlike other education-based programs that have come and gone because they’re too broad.
The city needs to be a partner because it can reach students at its libraries and through its summer and after-school programs at community and recreation centers, Price said. The city is putting more money into employee training in the proposed fiscal 2017 budget, so it makes sense to see if that training can include reading programs, she said.
Schools can’t do this alone. It’s daunting, but this is a city that very much has a can-do spirit. We’ve got to. There’s too much at stake.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price
“Our goal at the city is raise awareness,” Price said. “Every program we touch will have a literacy component. Schools can’t do this alone. It’s daunting, but this is a city that very much has a can-do spirit. We’ve got to. There’s too much at stake.”
Scribner described it as a communitywide effort that takes ownership of the problem starting at the earliest possible age.
The initiative is the latest community endeavor to put the focus on young children and the socio-economic barriers they face. Earlier this year, the North Texas Community Foundation in partnership with Children at Risk and Child Care Associates issued a report detailing the conditions facing Tarrant County’s more than 500,000 children.
Third-grade literacy rates were among the top concerns.
“If you are going to build a house, you need to build a strong foundation,” Scribner said.
‘We need to marshal the resources’
Scribner said many initiatives and programs tackle early childhood education, but efforts need to be aligned so that they focus on what children need to know to be ready for kindergarten. That will mean groups, leaders and parents need to come together.
“We can’t do it by ourselves,” Scribner said. “We need to marshal the resources of everyone in the community.”
Scribner said the reading initiative will also help Texas fulfill a higher education plan outlined by Gov. Greg Abbott last year. The Texas 60X30 plan calls for 60 percent of Texas’ 25- to 34-year-old workforce to have a post-secondary education — a college degree or certificate.
If you are going to build a house, you need to build a strong foundation.
Kent Scribner, Fort Worth school superintendent
When the latest STAAR test results were released by the Fort Worth school district, they showed that middle school students struggled in reading, writing, math and social studies. District officials said reading and comprehension were the root of the problem.
“One of the things we have to get better about as a district is working with students who are struggling with reading regardless of the subject area,” Charles Carroll, chief academic officer for Fort Worth schools, told the Star-Telegram.
Carol Klocek, CEO of Fort Worth’s Center for Transforming Lives, said the organization wants to be part of the solution. She said the project is a sign that leaders are starting to see that homelessness, hunger and poverty are issues that show up in urban classrooms.
25,785 children younger than six who are in poverty and not served by an early education program in Tarrant County.
Asked how children can not know their colors or numbers by age 5, Klocek responded that transiency and economic security are huge issues for children. Parents struggling to make ends meet face high stress levels, she said, explaining that the center, formerly part of the YWCA, tries to prepare children for kindergarten while teaching moms to become financially stable.
“It’s not just about not having a reading library at home,” Klocek said. “It’s about not knowing where you are going to sleep tonight that interferes with a child’s learning.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
How to tell if your 5-year-old is kindergarten-ready
Here are some of the signs that your child is ready for language and literacy development.
- He or she enjoys books and stories.
- Retells a story from beginning to end.
- Likes to talk, learns and uses new vocabulary words every day.
- Uses complete sentences when talking to others.
- Recognizes and prints first name.
- Identifies most letters of the alphabet.
- Writes a story using pictures and words.
Source: Fort Worth school district