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McKnight announces $450,000 to three Twin Cities school districts to improve literacy by grade 3


Minneapolis, May 17, 2011 — After one year of funding for intensive planning for comprehensive strategies to improve literacy, schools may apply for implementation funding.

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The McKnight Foundation has identified three Twin Cities school districts as key partners to create and share practical new models to improve early literacy. McKnight's investment to increase the percentage of Twin Cities third-graders reading at grade level builds on more than a decade of support for early childhood and kindergarten-readiness in Minnesota. After a rigorous application process guided by an advisory council of national field experts, McKnight's board has announced the program's first district grantees:

Each district will receive $150,000 from McKnight to develop comprehensive strategies to improve literacy at specified district sites, with a singular focus on the developmental span from pre-kindergarten through third grade. Beyond grants, McKnight will also provide the school districts with opportunities for collaborative learning and knowledge sharing.

Following one initial planning year, McKnight will review each school district again for a possible implementation grant to put their plans into motion.

"We can predict a child's prospects for graduation and adult success by looking at her reading skills by the end of third grade," said McKnight's president Kate Wolford. "Our three district partners have demonstrated they have the creativity, environments, and relationships to create effective strategies that will improve literacy among third-grade readers. Working together, we can help close Twin Cities' achievement gaps, a key to equitable and sustained regional vitality."

Over time, in partnership with the three school districts and others, McKnight intends to:

"While every year of education counts, third grade is a particularly crucial turning point for learning trajectories," explained Dr. Timothy Knowles, who chairs McKnight's Education and Learning National Advisory Committee. Knowles serves as the John Dewey director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, as well as clinical professor on the university's Committee on Education. "High-quality early learning, sustained over time, is critical to success. By working with three districts positioned to take innovative action, from planning to implementation, this program can improve the odds for children in the Twin Cities and beyond."

The Foundation also plans to partner as appropriate with nonprofit organizations, to share knowledge and build consensus within the early literacy field and to encourage supportive advocacy efforts statewide. Grantmaking for field-building and advocacy will use a closed application process; proposals are accepted only from organizations McKnight invites to apply.

SCHOOL DISTRICT GRANTEES

Bloomington Independent School District #271
Media contact: Rick Kaufman, 952-681-6404

In the current academic year, Bloomington Public Schools enrolled 10,200 students from PreK through 12th grade, of which 42% are from communities of color, 39% are from families with low incomes, and 12% are English language learners. The district has been among the frontrunners of Minnesota school districts using technology to encourage teachers and families to monitor student data and to develop connections to an alliance of Bloomington-based community resources that are committed to academic success.

The district's history of data-driven decisionmaking and its commitment to eventual implementation are notable, as is its demonstrated openness to learn and engage with others through robust civic connections. "We are very excited to partner with The McKnight Foundation in our ongoing efforts to prepare children for school, and keep them on a pathway to graduation," said Superintendent Les Fujitake. "Bloomington Public Schools has been a statewide leader in early childhood education, and our successes preparing children to enter kindergarten will further support these efforts. This new partnership will build on all our efforts to get students reading by the end of third grade."


Independent School District #286, Brooklyn Center
Media contact: Randal Koch, 612-290-9800

The Brooklyn Center Public Schools, located in a northern suburb of Minneapolis, enrolled 2,207 students from PreK through 12th grade in 2009-2010, of which 77% were from communities of color, 75% were from families with low incomes, and 20% are English language learners. The district is dedicated to developing a comprehensive system of literacy education that utilizes and expands their numerous school and community partnerships to have students reading well by grade three.

For six years, the district has partnered with the University of Minnesota to introduce the concept of a continuum that includes reading strategies, skills, and assessment tools within an elementary literacy framework. Said Superintendent Keith Lester, "This opportunity for the Brooklyn Center School District to partner with McKnight can yield positive results for the students, staff, and extended community at Earle Brown Elementary IB World School. Reading is a gateway to lifelong learning, and all students deserve to be guided through it. The McKnight partnership will allow Earle Brown to fully coordinate the efforts of our dedicated teachers toward closing the achievement gap and moving each of our children toward this goal." Earle Brown is a Professional Development School with the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.


Minneapolis Special School District #1
Media contact: Stan Alleyne, 612-668-0232

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) promises an inspirational education experience in a safe, welcoming environment for all diverse learners to acquire the tools and skills necessary to confidently engage in the global community. MPS enrolled more than 33,000 students from PreK through 12th grade in the current academic year, of which 69% are from communities of color, 65% are from families with low incomes, and 22% are English language learners.

MPS has a district-wide expectation that every kindergarten student meets national standards in literacy and has the foundational skills for reading success in first grade and beyond. The district previously implemented the research-based Early Childhood Workshop and Response to Intervention models at its High Five PreK sites, and intensified the literacy focus in all kindergarten classrooms. "We are grateful for the generosity of The McKnight Foundation, which has demonstrated a sustained commitment to student success," said Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson. "Early literacy development is a foundational element of education and a crucial component of academic achievement. By working collaboratively, we can ensure that all children learn to read by third grade so they can read to learn for the rest of their lives."


ABOUT THE MCKNIGHT FOUNDATION

The McKnight Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations through grantmaking, coalition-building, and encouragement of strategic policy reform. Founded in 1953 and independently endowed by William and Maude McKnight, the Minnesota-based Foundation had assets of approximately $1.9 billion and granted about $96 million in 2010.


Media contacts:

Tim Hanrahan, The McKnight Foundation, 612-333-4220

Rick Kaufman, Bloomington Independent School District #271, 952-681-6404
Randal Koch, Brooklyn Center Independent School District #286, 612-290-9800
Stan Alleyne, Minneapolis Special School District #1, 612-668-0232