Editor’s Note: Ron Fairchild is the director of the nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Support Center.
One of the best parts of my role as director of the Grade-Level Reading (GLR) Support Center is having the opportunity to visit communities across the country that are doing outstanding work to ensure that more low-income children experience early school success.
My recent visit to the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) was certainly no exception. Four Florida counties – Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and Desoto – have come together to form a regional GLR Campaign that continues to impress me with the incredibly high level of quality, commitment, partnership, and leadership that’s evident in all their work.
My day began with a celebratory breakfast attended by nearly 300 community leaders. One of my favorite parts of the event was a surprise flash mob performance of a new song that is becoming a hit among the early elementary school crowd in the area. “Strive for Less than Five Days Absent” was performed by children and adults — complete with choreographed dance moves — that put smiles on the faces of everyone in attendance. You can view a music video of the complete song composed by Jim Prosser, with lyrics by Beth Duda and choreography by Kelli Karen Smith.
It was great to watch SCGLR’s video recap and hear a report from Beth Duda on all that had been done and accomplished over the past year. It was also an honor for me to officially recognize and welcome six individuals from the Suncoast region into the GLR Council of Champions – Jim Henry, John and Amanda Horne, Carolyn and Steve Roskamp, and William Russell.
The Council of Champions, which now includes more than 100 people from across the country, is our way of saying thank you and providing recognition to those individuals who go above and beyond the call of duty and lead by example. I was also honored to thank The Patterson Foundation for their most recent $250,000 gift to the national GLR Campaign and for their stalwart support of efforts to help communities learn from and with each other.
Later in the day, I spent time with Kristen Russell, director of Community Impact, and the team from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to talk about their work as Sarasota’s lead partner on school readiness and their plans and aspirations for the coming year. I also met with Brian Ries and his colleagues at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. In partnership with the Patterson Foundation, the newspaper is launching a new podcast about GLR-related issues and opportunities, and I had the opportunity to be their first guest.
In addition to sharing a few thoughts about the future of the GLR Campaign, I had a chance to learn from them how an innovative, “solutions journalism” partnership is working to raise awareness and deepen understanding about the critical issues and barriers we face in this work. It was a full day, and I left Sarasota both inspired and encouraged by what I experienced.