Five Questions with Leslie Boissiere on the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Posted February 11, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog fivequestionsleslie 2015

Leslie Boissiere is chief oper­at­ing offi­cer of the Cam­paign for Grade-Lev­el Read­ing, launched by the Casey Foun­da­tion with oth­er fun­ders in 2010. The Cam­paign works to boost the num­ber of low-income chil­dren read­ing on grade lev­el by the end of the third grade, a crit­i­cal mile­stone for school suc­cess and high school grad­u­a­tion. Boissiere joined the Cam­paign in 2013. Pre­vi­ous­ly, she was a vice pres­i­dent for AARP, where she over­saw finan­cial secu­ri­ty pro­grams; served as exec­u­tive direc­tor for the White House Coun­cil for Com­mu­ni­ty Solu­tions; led home own­er­ship ini­tia­tives for Fan­nie Mae; and was a finance man­ag­er for Proc­tor and Gamble.

Leslie Boissiere
Q1. How has the Cam­paign pro­gressed since its inception?

Coali­tions in more than 167 com­mu­ni­ties in 41 states, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, Puer­to Rico and the Vir­gin Islands have joined the Cam­paign so far. In many states, large num­bers of com­mu­ni­ties are com­ing on board, cre­at­ing crit­i­cal mass to improve read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy. More and more states and gov­er­nors are tak­ing action on poli­cies and pro­grams relat­ed to third-grade read­ing through leg­is­la­tion and exec­u­tive action. And more than 100 local foun­da­tions are invest­ing in this work in their com­mu­ni­ties. At the same time, media cov­er­age across the nation has increased sig­nif­i­cant atten­tion to the impor­tance of ear­ly read­ing skills.

Q2. What do you think is the Campaign’s most sig­nif­i­cant accomplishment?

You need a deep lev­el of local engage­ment to sus­tain this work over time and ensure its suc­cess, so get­ting local fun­ders on board in com­mu­ni­ties and states has been the most crit­i­cal devel­op­ment. We are see­ing promis­ing exam­ples of coali­tions of pub­lic, pri­vate and non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions unit­ing and join­ing forces behind a com­mit­ment to improve third-grade read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy. The fact that we are see­ing this kind of invest­ment in a tight bud­getary envi­ron­ment is an indi­ca­tion of this grow­ing aware­ness that pre­ven­tion is less cost­ly than remediation.

Q3. The White House recent­ly held a sum­mit on ear­ly edu­ca­tion and announced a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort to pro­mote greater invest­ments in the ear­ly years. How will this advance the goals of the Campaign?

Ensur­ing that chil­dren have the sup­port ear­ly in life to start school ready to learn is crit­i­cal. The Campaign’s work across the coun­try has demon­strat­ed that in order to make progress, you have to invest in the ear­ly years and the ear­ly grades. The atten­tion devot­ed to this issue at the White House sum­mit, along with the launch of Invest in US, a joint effort by prac­ti­tion­ers, advo­cates, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and phil­an­thropists to boost resources for ear­ly child­hood, offers a real­ly impor­tant oppor­tu­ni­ty to ampli­fy the impor­tance of the issue. The new invest­ments announced at the sum­mit will also expand oppor­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren and par­ents to par­tic­i­pate in pro­grams that ensure healthy, on-track devel­op­ment and ear­ly literacy.

Q4. The Cam­paign set an ambi­tious goal to dou­ble the num­bers of chil­dren read­ing on grade lev­el by the end of the third grade by 2020. What are the biggest obstacles?

One crit­i­cal chal­lenge is col­lect­ing the right data and putting in place the right mech­a­nisms to mea­sure progress on the key Cam­paign strategies—improving school readi­ness, curb­ing chron­ic absence and expand­ing sum­mer learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. The Cam­paign has helped focus com­mu­ni­ties on data and results by pilot­ing the use of a data-dri­ven tool called the Results Score­card and by cre­at­ing a self-assess­ment tool that sites can use to gauge progress in all the key areas. In 2014, near­ly half the Net­work com­mu­ni­ties com­plet­ed the self-assessment.

Q5. How does the Cam­paign help com­mu­ni­ties and states involved in the Cam­paign stay con­nect­ed and learn from each other?

The Cam­paign has a Net­work Com­mu­ni­ty Sup­port Cen­ter that helps sites share promis­ing prac­tices, sto­ries and strate­gies. For exam­ple, in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, the Rogers Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion, work­ing with the local grade-lev­el read­ing coali­tion, has used three school years’ worth of data to con­struct the Oak­land Reads Base­line Report, which assess­es trends in school readi­ness, atten­dance, sum­mer learn­ing and par­ent engage­ment to improve third-grade read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy. In Con­necti­cut, a group of com­mu­ni­ties have worked togeth­er to make sig­nif­i­cant gains in reduc­ing chron­ic absence. Dubuque has made a mul­ti-year invest­ment in sum­mer pro­grams with lit­er­a­cy com­po­nents. A home-vis­it­ing pro­gram for par­ents in Buf­fa­lo is improv­ing kinder­garten readi­ness. A walk­ing school bus” in Spring­field, Mass­a­chu­setts — which brings par­ents and teach­ers togeth­er to walk chil­dren to school — is boost­ing atten­dance rates. Geor­gia has a launched a lan­guage nutri­tion” to stem the word gap between chil­dren from low-income fam­i­lies and their more afflu­ent peers.

Cities, coun­ties and towns can apply to join become part of the Grade-Lev­el Read­ing Cam­paign. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it www​.gradelevel​read​ing​.net.

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