Georgia Literacy Leaders Receive Recognition from Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Cook County was one of 29 communities in the nation that was recognized by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (GLR) with Pacesetter Honors for their work in 2017. Four communities were named “Bright Spots” by the GLR Campaign, and 11 county and statewide leaders joined the GLR Council of Champions.

Cook County

Bright Spots
Horizons Atlanta (Atlanta)
Marietta City Schools/Hickory Hills Elementary School (Cobb County)
Hancock County
Whitfield County

Council of Champions
Janet Adams (Fulton County)
Debbie Alexander
Brett Bell (Spalding County)
Jackie Cathey-Beard (Fulton County)
Valerie Gilreath (Bartow County)
Dr. Angela Leon-Hernandez
Dr. Garry McGiboney
Trelaine Neville (Hancock County)
Ellen Petree (Barrow County)
Phyllis Silverstein
Martha Ann Todd

Cook County Awarded Pacesetter Honors

Cook County was one of 29 communities in the nation that was recognized by the GLR Campaign with Pacesetter Honors for their work in 2017. The Pacesetter communities were formally honored with certificates and banners during GLR Week in Philadelphia in July.

Each year, the GLR Campaign uses its Pacesetter Honors to highlight communities that report making measurable progress on key indicators of early school success. These communities serve as proof points and represent the “leading edge” of innovation, impact, and improvement within the GLR Network, currently comprised of more than 360 GLR Campaign communities, representing 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Canada.

“The Pacesetter recognition is a great honor as our partners are working creatively and passionately to improve literacy,” said Cook County Family Connection Coordinator Zoe Myers. “Our efforts are based on the premise that a child’s potential, imagination, and educational possibilities should never be inequitable because of their geographic location. We are honored to receive this recognition, and it helps to further motivate our community partners to facilitate change.”

Cook County Family Connection’s 40 partners represent diverse sectors of the local community, including schools and colleges, child care providers, public agencies, private businesses, health care providers, civic clubs, faith-based groups, government, and literacy advocates.

The Collaborative is leading a community-based, data-driven effort to identify and address the inequities and barriers that foster poverty and literacy disparities.

•    A mobile produce truck delivers free fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income children each month. This system increases access to age-appropriate literacy materials by including a storybook for each child with these deliveries.
•    The Lobby Library project helps impoverished families get daily access to free books, educational supplies, and reading materials. The three project sites—the local Coastal Plain Community Action Agency, Department of Family and Children Services Agency, and Adel First Baptist Church Community Food Pantry—specifically serve low-income and marginalized families.
•    Free books and literacy materials are distributed to children and families through community events, and the Collaborative recently co-hosted a Migrant Family Education Day at a local school. Over 200 migrant families learned about available services, programs, and educational opportunities, and more than 350 free books were distributed.

Four Communities Named “Bright Spots”

The GLR Campaign’s Bright Spots are designed to enable communities to “steal shamelessly and share seamlessly” with colleagues across the country who are generating solutions to similar challenges. Bright Spots are schools, programs, and communities using intensive instruction and parent engagement, as well as innovative efforts and promising strategies, to combat lack of school readiness, summer learning loss, and chronic absence and assure kids are proficient readers when they leave third grade.

Horizons Atlanta (Atlanta)
In the past year, Horizons Atlanta launched the start of a new donor-driven “Sponsor a Student” initiative called the 100% Club. A donation of $2,500 covers 100 percent of the cost of their six-week summer learning program for one student including all supplies and materials, certified teachers and support staff, swimming instruction, field trips, transportation, meals, and more.

The 100% Club celebrates Horizons Atlanta’s mission and commitment to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to make an impact in their community—and that all students will be reading proficiently by the end of third grade. “And, perhaps most importantly, the 100% Club makes a statement to the wider community that 100 percent of students matter,” said Horizons Atlanta Associate Director Mary-Kate Starkel.

Marietta City Schools/Hickory Hills Elementary School (Cobb County)
The Dragon FIRE (Families Igniting Reading Excitement) program, which aims to increase school readiness by promoting literacy access, began during the summer of 2017 and was extended into the 2017 – 2018 school year at Hickory Hills Elementary School. Around 50 students struggling in reading in grades K – 3 participated in the program’s inaugural year.

“The FIRE program intends to spark a deeper level of literacy engagement by increasing families’ understanding of the importance of reading, as well as to share techniques for increasing language nutrition and literacy engagement with families,” said Hickory Hills Media Specialist Amy Baringer.

Students and their families, as well as younger preschool siblings, are invited to attend monthly evening sessions and participate in fun, interactive literacy-based activities. A teacher conducts a workshop to model literacy involvement for parents, and translators are on hand for Spanish-speaking parents. To encourage students to read throughout the summer and increase access to reading materials, the school’s Media Center opened in summer 2018 on a weekly basis.

Dragon FIRE, a collaboration with Georgia Family Connection Partnership and the Get Georgia Reading Campaign, is funded by United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Third Grade Reading Community Awards. The program is measured by comparing participating students’ reading scores at the start and end of the year, visits to the media center, and books checked out. Parents take pre- and post-surveys measuring their understanding of the importance of reading at home and using interactive reading strategies.

Hancock County
Hancock County is one of the poorest counties in Georgia, usually ranking last or second to last among Georgia counties on economic indicators such as per capita income and median household income. Only 17.2 percent of third-graders achieved “Proficient Learner” or above on the ELA compared to the state average of 35.1 percent.

Hancock’s “Read, Read, Read to Succeed” campaign addresses low reading proficiency among K – 3 students by implementing the SRA Reading Laboratory, a comprehensive strategy to ensure that children are proficient readers by third grade. The program builds upon and enhances existing literacy initiatives, such as the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy and “Little Libraries” that provide reading resources to families in rural areas.

Hancock County was awarded a mini grant from the Governor’s Offices of Achievement (GOSA) to develop a reading lab that will be open after school and during the summer months. Family Connection-Communities in Schools of Hancock County provides an AmeriCorps tutor to assist struggling readers in third grade and has partnered with the “Two Georgia Initiative” to secure additional funds needed for the reading lab and to support adult literacy.

Whitfield County
When Whitfield County’s Early Education Empowerment Zone (E3Z) North region formed in 2015, the area had what Whitfield Family Connection Coordinator Suzanne Harbin called “a few disjointed initiatives concentrated on literacy” including Readers to Leaders in the Dalton/Whitfield community. Their Birth-to-8 (B8) team, which sought to shore up the Readers to Leaders efforts and give literacy efforts a more regional reach, formed just as the Get Georgia Reading Campaign kicked off.

“The link between health care and literacy had never been made until Get Georgia Reading called it Language Nutrition,” said Harbin. “The support of their evidence-driven data and factual reporting on early brain development, toxic stress, and the fact that children reading on grade level by third grade was key helped us secure our partnership and their work.”

Harbin said the B8 team’s alignment with Get Georgia Reading has been “invaluable” in helping to generate success, as the Campaign’s common agenda allowed school systems, nonprofits, foundations, and cross-sectors of state and local agencies to collaborate, using the “concise, easy-to-understand” pillars to align work and gauge achievement.

The B8 team received $800,000 in additional funding to help implement literacy efforts across the northwest corner of Georgia focused on Language Nutrition and mental and physical health. This year, the region received six language and literacy grants from GOSA. Over 70 national, state, and community leaders attended the inaugural E3Z-North Early Education Summit held at Dalton State College, which included sessions centered on the successful initiatives implemented within Whitfield’s E3Z region.

“The CGLR has given us a clear framework on which to base our work,” said Harbin. “Through its guiding principal of local ownership, family engagement, and seamless alignment, we have made the ideal of reaching our youngest learners and their families a reality.”

Council of Champions Features 11 County and Statewide Leaders in Georgia

The GLR 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.

Recognized for their support of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the effort to help students achieve reading proficiency by the end of the third grade were:

  • Atlanta Fulton Family Connection Coordinator Janet Adams in Fulton County brings together unlikely partners and aligns projects, programs, systems, and funding to impact neighborhoods that have experienced systematic disinvestment in South Atlanta and South Fulton County. One project includes working with parents and partners to increase the number of Quality-Rated early learning centers in the neighborhood. So far, two centers have become Quality Rated, two more are in the process, and an additional center has been targeted for education. Additionally, over 400 parents have participated in engagement and education events. South Atlanta/Fulton was among the first Get Georgia Reading Campaign communities through its participation in the county’s EC-HEED.
  • Debbie Alexander, the former associate superintendent in Richmond County, has helped make significant progress in exploring multi-dimensional data to understand the factors contributing to the county’s children not learning to read and to identify solutions to help all children meet this critical milestone. Recognizing that Richmond County needed a community-wide effort to improve third-grade reading, they’ve also engaged new partners in their efforts.
  • Brett Bell in Spalding County spearheaded Griffin’s free “Little Free Libraries” (LFL) program for the Spalding County Collaborative Authority for Families and Children in 2017. Bell, owner of Designs Created International, purchased the first LFL for an afterschool program located in a public housing development with a large population of young children. He successfully engaged the community to take ownership of the LFL initiative, and, in one year, supervised the addition of 23 LFLs at 20 locations, two book depositories, and book repository complete with oversight and management. The budget for the project was zero. Everything was accomplished through sponsorships, in-kind contributions, and a few financial donations.
  • Jackie Cathey-Beard in Fulton County has organized a health and wellness council of over 50 community partners to address the needs of families in underserved communities. As the lead social worker for Fulton County Schools and an inaugural member of Fulton’s EC-HEED strategy team, Cathey-Beard has led the charge to provide much-needed resources for families and helped launch several programs: South Central Wellness Council (plans and implements strategies to address service gaps in underserved communities), Now It’s Ours Taskforce (educates families about the sex trafficking epidemic and develops policies and outreach efforts to protect women and children), Fulton County Schools resource fairs (meets the needs of struggling families by preparing them for the school year).
  • Valerie Gilreath in Bartow County is the co-founder and chair of the Bartow Literacy Council and the founder and executive director of the “Bartow Bookmobile—Reading to Go Places!” Under her guidance, the council enrolled 2,046 children in the Imagination Library in one year. Her grant writing talent helped capture approximately $78,000 dollars for literacy initiatives. With a 2018 projected budget of $98,500, the council plans to add “Little Libraries,” partner with doctors and dentists to incorporate early literacy into checkups, grow summer reading programs, and provide “Welcome to the World” books for newborns. The bookmobile established 125 bookmobile library cards, loaned over 450 books, and gave away approximately 650 books in its first six months.
  • When Dr. Angela Leon-Hernandez began working as a neonatologist in Emory’s Developmental Progress Clinic at Grady Hospital in Atlanta in 2014, she noticed that many NICU babies experienced unaddressed behavioral issues as they grew into toddlerhood. Her research brought her to the concept of promoting “shared reading” between parents/caregivers and their babies in the NICU. The Get Georgia Reading Campaign connected her with the Georgia Public Library Service as well as resources for book donations. The “Let’s Read a Book Today!” program launched in 2017 includes Talk With Me Baby training for NICU staff, free books for families, and literacy resources once babies are discharged. Dr. Leon-Hernandez is in talks with other regional perinatal centers in Georgia to replicate this low-cost, high-impact program.
  • Get Georgia Reading Campaign Cabinet member Dr. Garry McGiboney is a constant presence as the Campaign travels across the state to host community learning events. He has been an advocate for positive learning climates for more than a decade, working tirelessly to encourage school districts to implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). As a result of his efforts, Georgia now has more than 1,000 schools—the largest number in the nation—using PBIS, and elected officials have steadily increased investments in a statewide infrastructure to support schools in applying this framework with fidelity.
  • Trelaine Neville in Hancock County joined Hancock County’s EC-HEED strategy team in 2017 to represent Care Source, a nonprofit public sector managed care company headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. She has assisted Family Connection-Communities in Schools of Hancock County with two major strategies of early childhood literacy and improving the health of citizens by co-sponsoring their annual back-to-school Supply and Health Fair and leveraging dollars, books, and volunteer hours from Care Sources to support early childhood initiatives and literacy events to improve third-grade reading.
  • Ellen Petree in Barrow County promotes early literacy development in the youngest Barrow County residents in targeted populations. She recruited partners to create the Barrow Book Partnership, which has distributed more than 2,000 free, age-appropriate books and registered over 600 individuals for library cards in the last two years. Petree has been the driving force behind raising funds to extend and enhance the program. She has organized book drives, recruited volunteers, and dedicated herself to giving the 0 – 5 population a fighting chance at future success in school and in life.
  • Phyllis Silverstein, manager of the David, Helen, and Marian Woodward Fund – Atlanta at Wells Fargo, invited Get Georgia Reading to submit a multi-year proposal for funding during the Campaign’s infancy. The resulting dollars resulted in the development of an innovative toolkit and approach that is attracting national attention by integrating strategies from the preschool model of PBIS into the school-wide model used in K – 12. Silverstein invested more than $1.6 million to support the prototyping and evaluating of an early learning climate strategy and the development of systems and supports to enable the expansion of this innovative approach.
  • Get Georgia Reading Campaign Cabinet member Martha Ann Todd served as GOSA’s executive director until Dec. 2017 and advanced efforts to achieve the Governor’s top education priority—third-grade reading proficiency. Under her leadership, GOSA launched the Reading Mentors Program and the RESA Growing Readers Program. She helped establish GOSA’s Innovation Fund and commissioned research that demonstrated that third grade reading is “the great equalizer” and a significant predictor of later school success, helping to mobilize and engage a broader group of stakeholders in this effort. She also helped establish the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy at Georgia College. Todd continues to provide leadership to the Campaign in her new role at the Technical College System of Georgia.

CGLR Managing Director Ralph Smith recently presented a “State Pacesetter” honor to Georgia  in recognition the Get Georgia Reading Campaign’s exemplary work to increase the number of low-income children reading at grade-level by the end of third grade. Find out more.