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McKnight announces over $3 million in three new grants to increase 3rd grade literacy

‚ÄčJune 14, 2012 - McKnight expands its efforts to improve literacy in new partnerships with Saint Paul Public Schools, Academia Cesar Chavez, and Community of Peace Academy
Media contact: Tim Hanrahan, (612) 333-4220
With new grants totaling over $3.1 million, The McKnight Foundation adds a second large metropolitan school district and two charter schools to its local partnerships to improve early literacy. Working along a developmental continuum from pre-kindergarten through grade 3, McKnight seeks to increase the percentage of successful third grade readers in the Twin Cities. McKnight funds active efforts in schools to establish high-quality literacy development, including strategies to use data to improve classroom instruction and statewide advocacy to support the shared goals of literacy leaders and stakeholders.

"This is a pivotal moment for education in Minnesota," said Ted Staryk, McKnight board chair. "This year, our state has received over $100 million in federal grants through Race to the Top, Northside Achievement Zone, and i3/Investing in Innovation. McKnight helped convene local leaders around federal funding, and now we see great potential to leverage those grants with private funding to create comprehensive literacy systems." McKnight's focus on the PreK-3rd continuum is grounded in research findings that a student's reading skill by the end of third grade is an important factor in later academic success.

Among the three grants announced today, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) will receive $2.98 million over three years to broaden and intensify its efforts to increase PreK-3rd literacy achievement by aligning literacy instruction, professional development, data collection, and analysis. SPPS will implement the initiative at Saint Paul Music Academy and Paul & Sheila Wellstone Elementary, two schools that are prepared to take advantage of the support provided. The grant places SPPS in an "implementation cohort" with Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center Community school districts, which each received $3 million in related grants in March.

St. Paul charter schools Academia Cesar Chavez and Community of Peace Academy each will receive $62,000 for one year of planning to develop a comprehensive strategy for a PreK-3rd literacy initiative. During planning, the Urban Education Institute (UEI) of the University of Chicago will also provide technical assistance and collaborative learning experiences. Schools will also prepare for related changes in operations and curriculum.

A national education leader, UEI is dedicated to fostering reliably excellent schooling for children in urban America. In close partnership with McKnight's staff and board of directors, UEI guides and manages the Foundation's grants to Twin Cities school districts, including coordination of technical assistance and knowledge sharing.
"McKnight's funding now supports important work within both Twin Cities major public school districts, as well as broadening the effort to engage with charter schools," explained UEI director Tim Knowles. "Each was selected for its strong leadership and explicit commitment to forward motion. We've already seen notable improvements in Brooklyn Center, which received planning funding in 2011 and implementation funding earlier this year." According to metrics for the 2011-2012 school year compiled by UEI, a majority of Brooklyn Center students demonstrated a full year's worth of accelerated literacy progress by just February, through use of the initiative's tools and shared resources.

All schools funded by McKnight work with internal teams and with the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute to review and address the full gamut of research-based approaches to literacy from pre-kindergarten through third grade, including alignment, best use of instructional time, coherent pathways and partnerships, data and diagnostics, parent and community engagement, and professional capacity. Beyond direct funding, each school is also provided access to opportunities for collaborative learning and knowledge sharing to improve literacy.

Through these grants with the school districts and others, McKnight intends to:
  1. improve the quality of literacy education from PreK-3rd grade,
  2. foster an aligned and seamless education system,
  3. create effective data systems for gathering and disseminating relevant information, and
  4. increase opportunities for support to children with the greatest needs.

Saint Paul Public Schools received $2.98 million over three years to intensify its efforts to increase PreK-3rd literacy achievement by aligning literacy instruction, professional development, data collection, and analysis. SPPS will implement this effort at Saint Paul Music Academy and Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary. Key goals include increasing the number of students with literacy proficiency when entering kindergarten and maintaining proficiency through third grade, accelerating language acquisition for English-language learners, and improving related supports for students and families. The schools will also build a digital literacy database and offer related professional development opportunities. "Early literacy development is critical to long-term academic success," explains SPPS Superintendent Valeria S. Silva. "McKnight is helping make that possible for more students in St. Paul, while also providing valuable data that will hopefully inform policymakers in the future."

Academia Cesar Chavez was awarded $62,000 for one year of planning to develop a comprehensive strategy for a PreK-3rd literacy initiative. The school pledges to create and implement a comprehensive, seamless system for literacy learning from PreK to third grade. The school will also improve its capacity to provide applicable professional development for its staff. With a strong emphasis on community and family engagement, founder and director Ramona A. de Rosales leads the school's efforts. According to de Rosales, "Our vision is to build a PreK program and provide a literacy-rich environment, with a strong literacy focus for English Language Learners and native Spanish speakers. This support will be a tremendous boost to the work to be accomplished."

Community of Peace Academy received $62,000 for one year of planning to develop a comprehensive strategy for a PreK-3rd literacy initiative. Plans will include work to better align new PreK literacy curriculum and assessments with other strategies. Funding will allow mapping of PreK and K-3 standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessments to ensure strong links. Also, the school will increase capacity to provide early literacy interventions, and increase its use of technology in support of literacy instruction and intervention. "The McKnight Foundation has made a strong commitment to early literacy," explains the school's new executive director, Cara Quinn. "Community of Peace Academy shares their strong belief in high-quality early childhood education and kindergarten readiness. We see third-grade literacy as a critical factor in each child's educational progress."

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations. Through grantmaking, collaboration, and encouragement of strategic policy reform, we use our resources to attend, unite, and empower those we serve. Founded in 1953 and independently endowed by William and Maude McKnight, the Foundation had assets of approximately $1.9 billion and granted about $91 million in 2011.

McKnight's Education and Learning National Advisory Committee provides professional oversight and funding recommendations for the Foundation's literacy program. Composed of national experts in early literacy and representatives from McKnight's board and staff, Advisory Committee members include:

Ruby Takanishi, chair
Foundation for Child Development

Eugene Garcia
Arizona State University

Kristie Kauerz
College of Education, University of Washington

Kent Pekel
University of Minnesota College Readiness Consortium

Noa Staryk
The McKnight Foundation

Vallay Varro

Kate Wolford
The McKnight Foundation