Read Charlotte started with a clear goal – doubling the percentage of third-graders reading proficiently. But what this new community organization will actually do has remained a little bit more hazy in my mind.
It’s starting to get a little more real as the group’s new executive director, Munro Richardson, begins to make the rounds of the city’s movers and shakers.
I got the chance to hear him speak, and then interview, Richardson this week on the fourth floor of the Foundation For The Carolinas building. The foundation is handling the $5.5 million expected to be raised for the project.
Here’s what I learned:
▪ Richardson’s great, great-grandfather was born in Mecklenburg County. “In many ways, I feel I’m coming home,” he said.
▪ Five years ago, while working at a foundation in Kansas City on education issues, Richardson said he got in a “funk” for six to nine months. He said he wasn’t seeing the work he was doing make a difference. That’s led him to adopt the mindset of not confusing activity with progress. “It’s not enough anymore to do good stuff or have good intentions,” he said. “We’ve got to make an impact.”
▪ His work after that was in the start-up scene, including building a communication app for students and a teacher recruitment tool. That means he’ll think in terms of “customer acquisition” and “minimum viable product” in his new role.
▪ Read Charlotte is not going to run any programs. Instead, it will take stock of what’s being done, get more out of existing investments and get everybody measuring things the same way. “I am the air traffic controller, but I don’t fly the planes,” he said to the crowd at Foundation For The Carolinas. “You do.”
▪ Richardson is hopeful that picking a specific goal like third-grade reading proficiency might produce better results than working on something broad like “education reform.”
▪ In Charlotte and around the country, reading proficiency is highly correlated with income. But Richardson said it’s possible to attack the reading problem without having to solve poverty. He wants to look at the “green shoots,” or low-income kids who are scoring well, and see what’s more broadly applicable.
▪ It’s not possible to have a meaningful program while only speaking to the region’s elite. Richardson said Read Charlotte plans to make partnerships with neighborhood groups, churches and PTAs.