The nationwide Grade-Level Reading Council of Champions honors exemplary volunteers, early-care and education providers, school and civic leaders, public officials, and others who communities nominate based on their alliance with—and support for—local and statewide efforts to support early literacy success.
Ron Fairchild, Senior Consultant from the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, recently honored our region’s inductees to the nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s Council of Champions. Jim Henry, John Horne, Amanda Horne, Steve Roskamp, Carolyn Roskamp, Diana Greene, and William Russell each have made tremendous contributions to the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
Jim Henry is an excellent community connector, a highly engaged, active, and longstanding member of the Rotary Club of Sarasota, the Rotary Club of Sarasota Foundation, and a strong advocate for children and education. Jim‘s efforts with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) have resulted in a Dental Sealant program in Sarasota County, DeSoto County beginning the process of joining the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, 6,000 Kindergarten Readiness Bags distributed in a four-county area, and a one-book project for all Sarasota County 1st and 4th graders.
How does a school superintendent address the attendance problem effectively? Former Superintendent of Manatee County Schools, Dr. Diana Greene, implemented an innovative program to improve school attendance. Her solution was found in thinking differently about what funds were available and the best ways to use them. The fantastic result is that between 2015–2016 and 2016–2017, Manatee County Schools realized a 55% reduction in chronic absenteeism of historically chronic Title I elementary students and an overall 14% reduction at all Title I schools.
Dr. Greene recognized the simple fact that children cannot learn if they are not in school. Her innovative program to get more children to spend more days in school began three years ago with her commitment to the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. To address absenteeism in Manatee County, she thought way outside of the box, moving Title I dollars to create a proactive and well-staffed program. A new kind of employee with a new job description was hired. A Graduation Enhancement Technician (GET) was placed in every Title I school to reduce absenteeism. A GET’s role falls somewhere between that of a teacher and a social worker.
GETs connect students and their families to school and community resources to break down any barriers that keep their children from attending school. Through positive relationships, rapport, home visits, incentives, celebrations, and intensive interventions such as mentoring students and their families to engage them in the importance of education, Title I schools have reduced chronic absenteeism substantially every year.
Next, we honor Amanda and John Horne:
John and Amanda Horne are much more than successful restaurateurs. They are visionaries and committed advocates for the children in our region. John and Amanda piloted Dive into Reading, a reading program to boost Summer Learning at one restaurant during the summer of 2017. In 2018 this collaboration with the School District of Manatee County, Manatee County Libraries, more than 250 Volunteer Reading Mentors, and more than 270 rising second and third graders took place over four weeks in five different settings. Dive into Reading received an outpouring of community support, winning recognition, and awards from the National Restaurant Association, School District of Manatee County, and Manatee Chamber of Commerce….and they are not done. Plans are underway to strengthen the program in Manatee County and expand the program to other counties.
We now honor Carolyn and Steve Roskamp:
Carolyn and Steve Roskamp became interested in finding a solution as to why half of Manatee County’s third-grade students were reading below grade-level expectations. Their hours of research, experiences volunteering, and their belief in early intervention led them to work with community partners such as the School District of Manatee County and United Way Suncoast. The Roskamps co-created Soar in 4 with a focus on four-year-olds and their families at Sea Breeze Elementary school. Steve and Carolyn make a strong team. Carolyn is instrumental in overseeing a volunteer program through Kirkwood Presbyterian Church to provide mentors for struggling Sea Breeze students. To ensure their work continues, Steve and Carolyn have helped to establish a “Sea Breeze Reads to Succeed Fund” at Manatee Community Foundation. The success of the Soar in 4 model has attracted other partners resulting in the expansion of the program to additional Title I schools.
Our final Champion is William Russell:
William Russell has been CEO of the Sarasota Housing Authority (SHA) for the past 12 years, transforming SHA from a perennially troubled housing authority to a consistently high performer. William has created an attendance program for students living in public housing, improving attendance by 56% with 25% of the students reporting perfect attendance.
William has implemented voluntary pre-Kindergarten (VPK) classrooms onsite in two housing communities. Under his guidance, the housing authority launched a Summer Learning Academy for three- and four-year-olds and a summer program for elementary school students. Students who participated in SCGLR’s Summer Book Challenge in 2017 showed remarkable reading gains —3.1 months—as measured by school assessments.
Under William’s leadership, the Housing Authority participated in Book Rich Environments, distributing 2,500 books to more than 280 public housing children. SHA also hosts a special event—coinciding with National Summer Learning Day—called Book ‘Em—Cops & Kids, where Sarasota police officers distribute more than 400 books to children and encourage them to read.
William’s visionary approach to ensuring our children’s success inspires housing authorities throughout the nation.
To each of our honorees, we are grateful for your outstanding contributions, and it is indeed an honor to be able to recognize you in this fashion.