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Philadelphia District Announces $30M Commitment For Literacy Programs

The Philadelphia school district announced today a combined $30 million in investments from two foundations and the district to improve literacy training and programs that could impact the lives of 48,000 K-3 students.

The commitments come from Philadelphia-based philanthropies, the William Penn Foundation, which pledged $6 million, and the Lensfest Foundation, which pledged another $4.5 million, to a three-year effort focused on improving early literacy. The rest of the $30 million will come from in-kind contributions and resources from the district over the next three years.

The funds will go towards teacher-training; on-site job support for teachers that will be provided by instructional coaches; and in-classroom libraries for students, according to the district. All of those initiatives are part of  "READ! by 4th," a citywide campaign that aims to have all of the city's 4th graders proficient in reading by 2020.  

Philadelphia literacy training.JPG

Just slightly more than half of the district's students can read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade, according to the district.

"READ! by 4th" is led by the public library and has more than 50 corporate, non-profit, and other local sponsors.

In Monday's announcement, the district said it was still seeking another $3.4 million in matching contributions to help expand the in-class libraries.

"I am pleased that the investment prioritized professional development for educators," district superintendent William R. Hite said in a statement thanking the foundations for their support.  "Enhanced teacher training will assist in enabling us to reach the goal of grade-level literacy for all students by 4th grade."

More specifically, the district says the donations announced July 6 will allow 2,000 K-3 teachers to benefit from "evidence-based" literacy instruction during summer institutes over a three-year period.

The summer institutes will be followed up by on-site trained literacy coaches in 150 elementary schools. Those coaches will provide "real-time" feedback to teachers, reinforce the ideas from the summer literacy institutes, and guide teachers in implementing those literacy strategies. The third part of the literacy strategy will be a grade-level appropriate library in every classroom, with books that teachers can use during class and that students can take home.

"We are excited to support this project because it provides the opportunity for teachers to enhance their literacy skills throughout the year," Stacy E. Holland, the executive director of the Lensfest Foundation, said in a statement. "This project is critical to the long-term academic success of our children and we are proud to serve as a part of a collaborative effort that has committed time, energy, and resources to support the advancement of a citywide literacy agenda."

The investments are already being put to use: About 700 of the district's teachers and principals reported to the district today for the start of a week of literacy training. Principals and teachers are also taking time at the end of each day's sessions to plan how to incorporate those literary strategies into the school day once school reopens, said Fernando Gallard, a district spokesman.

Elliot Weinbaum, the program director for the William Penn Foundation, said the programs will help the district's children get a "strong start" in life.

"This investment in our city's children will improve access to high-quality reading instruction and will make significant strides in improving outcomes by giving all children in the district a strong start in life,"  Weinbaum said in the statement.

"The school district continues to make significant advances and we must continue the momentum," he said. "By partnering with the Lenfest Foundation and the school district, we can continue on a path of improving educational opportunities for students and dramatically increase the number of Philadelphia children who experience academic success, especially in our most underserved communities."

Photo Credit: Hundreds of Philadelphia teachers and principals started a week-long literacy training program on Monday as part of the district's focus on literacy for K-3 students. Source: Fernando Gallard, Philadelphia school district.  

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