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Sarasota Named One of 30 Communities Nationally Honored as a "Pacesetter" in Early Literacy Work
By Murray Devine / March 20, 2015

Sarasota was named one of just 30 communities across the nation to be honored with a 2014 “Pacesetter” award by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.


The Community Foundation of Sarasota County completed the multi-part application for the award, providing detailed reports on successful programmatic outcomes as well as reevaluating Sarasota's Community Solutions Action Plan.

Sarasota County was cited for making “measurable progress” on summer learning loss outcomes. Initially focused on four attendance zones, with special emphasis on select schools in Sarasota County (Alta Vista Elementary, Gocio Elementary, Tuttle Elementary, and Emma E. Booker Elementary), The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading efforts in Sarasota County saw a reduction in chronic absenteeism, a significant improvement in the school readiness of students attending pre-K programs, and a rise of students attending summer learning programs to improve overall reading levels and prevent summer slide.


The Pacesetter honorees were selected from among 76 communities in the Grade-Level Reading Communities Network that participated in a series of activities in 2014 designed to strengthen their work.Across the country, communities completed rigorous self-assessments of their progress, mobilized local constituencies through events such as Summer Learning Day and Attendance Awareness Month, and updated their Community Solutions Action Plans.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading proudly recognized the successes of Sarasota County for the shared ownership of the efforts of a multitude of partners including: Community Foundation of Sarasota County, The Patterson Foundation, Sarasota County School District, Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County, Girls Inc., United Way Suncoast, and other key partners.

Through a partnership with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Alta Vista Elementary School developed a fully-funded summer program designed to address summer learning loss and the readiness gap for children from low-income families called the Eagle Academy. In 2014, 112 Alta Vista Elementary first grade students were tested using the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading (FAIR). When comparing reading comprehension proficiency of students leaving kindergarten and entering first grade, studentsenrolled in the Eagle Academy summer program exhibited no summer learning loss in reading, increasing proficiency from 77% to 79%. Students who did not attend the summer program experienced significant summer learning loss in reading, decreasing proficiency from 71% to 49%.

Furthermore in 2014, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading efforts inspired a new summer literacy program through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota County in partnership with the Community Foundation called the Great Futures Academy (GFA). Reports showed that 100% of the 60 students who participated in this 11-week summer program did not experience any summer learning loss, and many actually improved in reading proficiency.

In order to increase efforts, the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County is helping to identify three and four year olds living in targeted attendance zones who will most likely to feed into Sarasota’s CGLR focus schools, but are not currently in daycare or early learning programs. Additionally, The Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters program at the Sarasota YMCA and the local housing authority are also working with families to help them understand the importance of getting their children into qualified preschool programs. 

"Something special is happening in Sarasota as evidenced by the significant results achieved to date by tackling grade-level reading as a community. Through a long history of education work, generous donors, terrific partners, determined school leaders, and a collaborative community, we’re working together to accelerate progress and make a substantial impact on early literacy,” says President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County Roxie Jerde. “We’re thrilled our community is paving the way to successful grade-level reading outcomes. While Sarasota is on the forefront of tackling this issue, there’s a long road ahead.”

“Sarasota is to be commended as a national leader in this critically important effort,” said Ralph Smith, the managing director of the GLR Campaign. “We’re recognizing the communities that can demonstrate they’re really making a measurable difference in the lives of our children.”

Sarasota County and the other award winners are part of a nationwide campaign – now operating in 167 communities -- that is committed to increasing the number of children who are reading at grade level by the end of third grade. The Grade-Level Reading Communities Network now includes 2,100 local organizations at work in 41 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In joining the network, the communities develop formal plans to address three underlying challenges that can keep young children, especially those from low-income families, from learning to read well:

  • School readiness — too many children are entering kindergarten already behind.
  • School attendance — too many young children are missing too many days of school.
  • Summer learning — too many children are losing ground academically over the summer.

National tests show that two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders, and four-fifths of those from low-income families, are not reading proficiently. Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a milestone on a child’s path to high school graduation and later success because it marks the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Students who have not mastered reading by that time are more likely to drop out of school and struggle throughout their lives.

The GLR Communities Network is dedicated to narrowing the gap between children from low-income families and their more affluent peers. According to the U.S. Department of Education, that gap has widened significantly in recent years, with 80% of low-income kids failing to read proficiently in fourth grade compared to 49% of their more affluent peers.

Launched in May 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship.

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