Because of their collaboration on early-childhood education, Montgomery County and the city of Dayton were among 15 communities named All-America Cities by the National Civic League and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. From left are Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Learn to Earn Dayton; Geraldine Pegues, Deputy Director of Montgomery County’s Human Services Planning and Development Department; Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw; Allison Knight, children’s services librarian for Dayton Metro Library’s outreach services; and Ritika Kurup, director of early learning for Learn to Earn Dayton. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Dayton, county win national education award

The Dayton/Montgomery County area was among only 15 communities nationwide to receive the All-America City Award last weekend for their efforts to help young children from low-income families achieve early school success.

The awards were presented in Denver by the National Civic League and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national collaboration of businesses, governments, educators and philanthropic groups aiming to increase reading proficiency as a building block toward success in life.

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Ritika Kurup, director of early learning for Learn to Earn Dayton, said Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley deserve credit for making the issue a local priority.

“This is a big recognition for our community’s collective efforts around kindergarten readiness and third-grade reading,” Kurup said. “Commissioner Lieberman and Mayor Whaley’s bold leadership is a big reason for this recognition, along with all of our partners’ work.”

The winning communities included San Antonio, Kansas City and Des Moines, as well as other mid-sized and smaller communities.

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The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading cites research that “when children read at proficient levels by third grade, they are more likely to complete high school prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship.” But data shows a wide performance gap between low-income children and others, leading to efforts across the nation to address the problem.

Whaley made education a cornerstone of her term as mayor from Day 1, using her inaugural address to launch Dayton’s City of Learners campaign, to improve student performance and build a stronger workforce for the future. She also championed last fall’s income tax increase, which will provide more than $4 million per year to improve high-quality preschool access in Dayton.

Lieberman has been a leader of Montgomery County’s efforts on the same front, helping to build the multiyear pilot program for increased preschool access. The county also has a long-term workforce goal, aiming to have 60 percent of working-age adults possess at least a 2-year college degree or post-secondary credential by 2025.

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To win the award, communities had to improve outcomes for low-income children in areas such as school readiness, attendance, summer learning and/or grade-level reading; show civic engagement, cross-sector collaboration and inclusiveness; and create a plan for sustainability and bundling proven strategies.

“This year’s All-America Cities are engaging a diverse cross-section of residents, businesses, nonprofits and other stakeholders in the grade-level reading effort, which will help sustain their achievements over time,” said Doug Linkhart, President of the National Civic League.