The City of Fort Worth has set an ambitious goal for improving literacy and academic performance for its youngest residents, taking steps to ensure that by the year 2025, 100 percent of Fort Worth third-graders will be reading at or above grade level.
This 100×25 goal is only one component of the city’s new Education Initiative, which is led by Gleniece Robinson, former director of the Fort Worth Library. Her task is to coordinate the educational programs and activities of city departments in order to align them with the community’s larger educational goals like 100×25.
In 2016, the Mayor and City Council took part in a brainstorming workshop identifying nine strategic challenges and opportunities facing Fort Worth. One of these challenges was a focus on education and workforce development.
But once the Council’s priority on education was combined with statistics from Fort Worth ISD, the numbers were less than flattering: The reading levels of Fort Worth ISD third-graders were compared to those of other large Texas school districts, and results showed that only 33 percent of Fort Worth third-graders were reading at grade level. Locally, Dallas and Arlington fared slightly better at 36 percent each, and Austin managed 48 percent, although several DFW school districts show promise: 86 percent of Carroll ISD’s third-graders are reading at grade level, as are 70 percent of Aledo’s third graders.
Statewide, Texas can only boast that 44 percent of its third-graders are reading at grade level.
Part of Fort Worth’s Education Initiative will involve learning from other cities, both locally and across the country, to establish best practices and find ways to incorporate those practices into educational programming coming out of city departments.
“Fort Worth wants to lead the way in increasing in these numbers,” Robinson said. “We want other Texas cities to follow our example, and we want to learn what we can from other cities so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
And the city won’t be doing it alone, thanks to partnerships with multiple agencies who are coming together to help make an impact on the education of Fort Worth students, including Fort Worth ISD, the local business community and a variety of community nonprofit education providers and funders, like Read Fort Worth.
Additionally, this education initiative allows Fort Worth to join several of its fellow index cities like Jacksonville, Fla., Indianapolis and Denver that have all developed education initiatives of their own during the past 20 years.
One of the first goals the group plans to tackle is to focus on Fort Worth’s elementary schools where STAAR tests suggest improvement is required. Several of these schools, including Logan Elementary, Como Elementary and John T. White Elementary, have had a spot on the “improvement required” list for five years.
There are some local bright spots though, as several Fort Worth schools with an economically-disadvantaged population of students (such as Washington Heights, Manuel Jara, Hubbard Heights and five others) have at least 40 percent or more of their third-graders reading at grade level.
A plan takes shape
The city’s education initiative will target kids ages 5-9, filling a niche between other organizations’ Early Learning programs and out-of-school programs geared toward older children.
The initiative has a strong focus on literacy, a unique set of skills that include reading, writing, listening and speaking. While literacy intervention is a rigorous, intentional use of curriculum tailored to individual students, the initiative also plans to provide literacy enhancements and activities that can utilize volunteers, like reading buddies or storytime.
Once literacy best practices have been explored and finalized, Robinson will work with nine city departments to find ways to incorporate literacy into their educational programming. Some department programs, like Camp Fort Worth (run by the Park & Recreation and Neighborhood Services departments) and the Families Reading Together program (run by the Library) are already off to a good start, but Robinson hopes that additional trained staff, new learning strategies and access to culturally-relevant books will help make the literacy components of these programs more robust.
A “think tank” of city employees has already been created to help organize initiative efforts, and an action plan for the city’s Education Initiative is expected by the end of July.
A community advisory committee will also be established, which will hold conversations with residents to assess how the public can best use the city’s educational programming and address any barriers to attendance.
“Education is a big passion of mine,” said Mayor Betsy Price. “Education is central to all that we do — it lowers crime, it’s economic development and it really is community engagement.”
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