Want companies to come to Fort Worth? Help more children read, says business leader

Mayor Betsy Price reading to kids at Oakhurst Elementary in 2016.
Mayor Betsy Price reading to kids at Oakhurst Elementary in 2016. Special to the Star-Telegram

Burlington Northern Executive Chairman Matt Rose offered a somber warning to business, community and social service leaders who gathered Monday to put more focus on childhood literacy.

Fort Worth may be the nation’s 15th largest city, but if more emphasis isn’t placed on student success, it won’t be a destination city for major corporations.

Rose said when companies look at North Texas cities, they want strong public education systems like those in Plano, Frisco and Southlake. Fort Worth offers strong private and charter schools, but its public schools are lacking in success, he said.

“They do believe they ought to be able to enjoy a public school system that works,” Rose told dozens of business leaders gathered at a breakfast hosted by Darien George, managing partner at Mackenzie Eason & Associates. Rose, Mayor Betsy Price and Kent Scribner were panelists.

Scribner also addressed the leaders gathered at a breakfast held at the Fort Worth Club. They updated the community about efforts by the school district and the non-profit, Read Fort Worth, to improve reading among Fort Worth students.

Read Fort Worth was created by the city of Fort Worth, the Fort Worth school district and members of the philanthropic and business communities to help Scribner implement a plan, called 100X25 FWTX Ready to Read, Ready to Lead.” That plan sets a goal of having 100 percent of Fort Worth third-graders reading on grade level by 2025.

Scribner’s challenge to the community came as he announced that only about 30 percent of the district’s third-grade students were reading at grade level in 2016. He said that statistic has been improving with about 35 percent of third-grade students reading on grade level, according to 2017 data.

Scribner stressed that much work remains.

“We cannot do it by ourselves,” Scribner said.

Read Fort Worth recently unveiled a fund-raising campaign that will bring sets of books for classrooms at 21 high needs campuses in the Fort Worth school district. Read Fort Worth is asking for $500,000 for the books.

Even though, campuses have libraries, a school’s youngest readers need to be able to see, feel and borrow books in their classrooms, said Rose, Price and Scribner. Often, teachers buy their own classroom sets of books and take them when they get jobs at a different school, they said.

On Monday morning, Read Fort Worth had already raised $150,000 when it began taking more donations from those attending the breakfast. By about 9 a.m., the non-profit received commitments from business leaders for another $100,000.

J. Carter Cook, director of library media services for Fort Worth schools, said the district wants to put books in classrooms that lack them.

Cook said reading corners or circles in classrooms allow youngsters to immerse themselves in books. There are three types of sets being purchased for the campaign — books focused on pre-kindergarten and kindergarten readers, books for first and second-grade students and a bilingual set for readers in pre-kindergarten through second grade.

Sets of books have already been purchased for four elementary schools — Sunrise-McMillan, DeZavala, S.S. Dillow and T.A. Sims. Among popular titles for early readers are “The Great Fuzz Frenzy,” and “Freight Train,” Cook said.

“We are really trying to build a community of readers,” Cook said.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram