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Superintendent Johnson lays out NC Reads literacy plan

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson announced a literacy initiative called NC Reads Monday that aims to bring resources, people, and organizations together to raise K-3 reading proficiency levels (video below). 

Johnson said he is not asking the legislature for any funding for the initiative. “This is tapping into these pools of resources that are already happening and making them work more effectively,” Johnson said. 

Johnson read books to kindergarteners at East Garner Elementary School and explained the program, which he says is about aligning existing efforts.

At the program’s center is a website where volunteers, parents, students, donors, and stakeholders can stay connected with literacy-related events and endeavors throughout the state. 

The initiative’s first leg will work to keep students reading throughout the summer by administering book drives and providing free subscriptions for K-5 students to myON, an online tool that helps students learn to read and create their own reading plans. 

“Summer vacation’s coming up,” Johnson said to the class in the school’s library. “But we don’t want you to lose all the learning that you did this year over summer when you go home.”

The NC Reads book drive will put books in the hands of students to keep them engaged in the off-months.

“We’re going to be working with local schools all across the state to get book donations or money donations to buy books,” he said, “and we’re going to use those to give out to you to take home for the summer.” 

Johnson said his goal, in the future, through NC Reads, is establishing “a seamless continuum of literacy support from preschool all the way up until graduation.”

Johnson mentioned organizations like First Book, Reach Out and Read, the N.C. Reading Association, and Book Harvest that he hopes NC Reads can help coordinate to reach a unified goal.

Former Superintendent June Atkinson tweeted that the initiative was a renamed effort that her administration began. The “Give 5 Read 5” program started in 2013 and encouraged students to read five books over the summer to maintain their skills.

 Johnson said he has been working with legislative leaders on several education initiatives, and hopes to support the state’s Read to Achieve program.

“The General Assembly has really gotten us a great start on the Read to Achieve program,” Johnson said. “But that actually happens when you’re in school, from kindergarten to third grade.”

Johnson said NC Reads hopes to not just focus on those grades and to go beyond the school building walls to make sure parents have the knowledge and resources to ensure kids are reading at home.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, also mentioned a bill he plans on filing soon that he said is related to Johnson’s efforts. The legislation would create an assistant superintendent position who would be held accountable for early education efforts. 

“We (would) now have someone who’s actually in charge and held responsible for this continuum of education,” Horn said. “We would all agree that the ability to read is the single key ingredient to a quality education. The earlier and the better you can read, the better chance you have in the long term.”

Historically, work around preschools has been somewhat split between the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Department of Health and Human Services, Horn said. Although wrap-around services are important for young children, DPI needs to provide educational opportunities for children before they enter the formal classroom, he said. 

“We need to focus on the education part and ensure that continuum and that coordination,” Horn said.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.