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Author Archive for Mike McGrath

Mike McGrath is editor of the National Civic Review.

March 12 Filing date for All-American City Grade-Level Reading Awards

A Message from Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading:

Last October, more than 160 across the country submitted a letters of intent to participate in the 2012 All-America City Award for Grade-Level Reading and to join the Grade-Level Reading Network of Leading Communities. Civic leaders in most of the communities are now hard at work developing their Community Solutions Action Plans (CSAPs) to respond to three major challenges: too many children not ready for school and too far behind to catch up; too many children missing too many days of school and too much instructional time; and too many children losing ground over the summer months and returning to school in September further behind than when they left in June.

March 12 is the filing date for the CSAP. If your community was among the more than 160 that filed a Letter of Intent, this may be the time to check in with your local team leader. You can:

  • Support, encourage, and where necessary nudge the process. Let the Team Leader and her/his team know that participating the Network is important to you.
  • Volunteer to help on the task forces and workgroups charged with data gathering, program mapping, and consensus building.
  • Monitor progress, nudge, and pitch in. The CSAPs are due on March 12. How is your city coming along?

All-America City Quilt Welcomed to Lakewood

Lakewood, Colorado rolled out the red carpet for the arrival of the All-America City Quilt this week. In fact, the quilt was given a police escort.

NCL President Gloria Rubio-Cortés was on hand to congratulate Mayor Bob Murphy and a group of community leaders.

The quilt has been making rounds of cities that were finalists in the 2011 All-America City Awards. Lakewood was named a 2011 All-America City last June at an award ceremony and celebrqation in Kansas City, Missouri.

Join or Renew Your Membership in the National Civic League

Gloria Rubio-Cortés

By Gloria Rubio-Cortés

Our new administrative fellow, Cheryl Jacobs, is reaching out to past members and others to renew or join the National Civic League.  You can pull up a copy of our membership form by clicking here.

As a member or contributor to NCL, you join a national network of doers and thinkers—community leaders, elected and appointed officials, educators, nonprofit and business leaders—and interact through social media.  You get the latest reports on community building techniques and programs for building civic engagement and solving community problems with a subscription to NCL’s quarterly journal, National Civic Review.

Your support is critical to people who are consistently improving their communities with the assistance of NCL’s programs and guides/publications.  We depend on you to be able to help people be problem solvers.

NCL Admin Fellow Cheryl Jacobs

NCL members and donors are important to us.   We invite you to stay involved, to support these efforts, to build our nation’s civic infrastructure, and to strengthen our democracy.  Knowing that it is a difficult time for everyone, NCL has kept its membership fees affordable.

Please renew your membership or make a donation by completing the attached form and mailing your check or allowing us to charge your credit card.  Or go to our Web site and make a tax-deductible contribution to NCL.

Beyond the Digital Divide

ZeroDivide and the National Civic League (NCL) have teamed up to publish an issue of the National Civic Review on how rapidly evolving information and communications technologies (ICT) can overcome the barriers that divide the “haves” from “have-nots” in communities across the U.S.

“New technologies are transforming the way we live our lives, providing unprecedented opportunities to increase economic well-being and enhance civic engagement,” said Tessie Guillermo, President and CEO of the San Francisco-based ZeroDivide. “Underserved communities are pushing the envelope of what is possible, yet issues of cost, availability, language and literacy continue to limit their full and equal participation.”

Understanding these new opportunities and challenges is the central focus of NCR issue 100:3: “ Beyond the Digital Divide: How New Technologies Can Amplify Civic Engagement and Community Participation.” The contents of the new issue are available for no cost on the Wiley-Blackwell Online library and at ZeroDivide’s website

As part of the launch of this issue, ZeroDivide and NCL will convene a free webinar on November 17th entitled “Catalzying Civic Innovation: Using Tech for Community Engagement.”  The call will feature Jay Nath, Director of Innovation for the City and County of San Francisco, who has an article in the journal. Damian Thorman will also join the discussion. He is the National Program Director at The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and project lead for the Apps for Communities program – a joint project of the Foundation and the Federal Communications Commission.

For more information on the webinar and to RSVP, please visit

NCR 100:3 features some of the country’s leading experts and advocates addressing a broad range of issues relating to ICTs - everything from ways of improving health care delivery to the use of mobile phones to mobilize political participation and civic engagement. “From digital divide to digital inclusivity, the issue of access has become more sophisticated in less than a decade,” writes Ali Modarres, chairman of the Department of Urban Analysis at California State University, Los Angeles. “Now inclusion encompasses service provision, access to data, creating presence on the Internet, and having influence in shaping the future of ICTs.”

Jay Nath writes how a “Government 2.0” movement is giving citizens opportunities to “participate and contribute value in a new architecture of openness and collaboration.” Jon Funabiki, executive director of the Renaissance Media Center, touts the growing influence of “little media,” small community-based newspapers, Internet publications and broadcast outlets that reach linguistically and ethnically diverse audiences often ignored by the mainstream media. Sasha Constanza-Chock of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology writes about successful uses of ICTs by immigrant rights groups. Other essays focus on a groundbreaking program by ZeroDivide to promote broadband use and digital literacy, and new ideas for how foundations can support their grantees in making use of new technologies.

All-America City Quilt Begins 24-City Tour

Jane McAtee and Gloria Rubio-Cortes

Each year, dozens of finalists in the All-America City Award are asked to submit quilt squares representing something special about their communities. The squares are stitched together into a quilt, which tours the country visiting each finalist town, city, county or region. Southwest Airlines, the Official Airline of the All-America City Awards, is launching the quilt on its national tour again this year. The quilt will stop in each finalist community for several days, where it will go on display in public buildings and community centers. “What a wonderful way for people to celebrate the work they are doing to improve their communities!” said Jane McAtee, manager of community affairs and grassroots at Southwest. “It’s such a great opportunity or them to be creative in expressing the things that make their communities unique.”

First stop on the quilt’s 24-city tour is Kenai, Alaska, population 7115, a finalist and winner in the 2011. Among other things, Kenai’s award winning application focused on a community-wide effort to cleanup a local salmon fishery. The town’s quilt square illustrates a salmon leaping out of the river. Torrance, California, number five on the quilt tour, features a beach scene on its patch. “The All-America City quilt represents the spirit of the All-America City Awards—people working together to address our nation’s most pressing challenges,” explained National Civic League (NCL) President and chief quilter, Gloria Rubio-Cortés. “Think of the fabric of the quilt as something like the fabric of an American community.”

More than 150 Cities, Counties Pledge to Make Early Reading an Urgent Priority

The response has been overwhelming. We’ve gotten more than 150 letters of intent to participate in the 2012 All-America City Grade Level Reading Award.  The list includes big cities large and small (L.A., NYC, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, San Francisco, Houston, Seattle) and counties and multi-county areas from 36 states. Two U.S. Territories and D.C. are represented. You can read a press release from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading here.

Our goal was to get 50 to 55 communities to sign up.  This level of interest has more than surpassed expectations, which suggests that grade-level reading may be an issue whose time has come.  We’ve been working with the National League of Cities and United Way Worldwide, among other groups, to generate interest in this award. It will be given to communities (counties, regions, whatever) that develop the most comprehensive, realistic and sustainable plans for addressing three issues: school readiness, school attendance and summer learning.

A pact between the National Civic League and the foundation-led Campaign for Grade-Level Reading allows these communities to join the Campaign’s network, which will provide assistance throughout the application process and help cities develop community-wide plans for improving reading achievement by the end of third grade. These localities will also be on the radar screen for the Campaign’s 80 foundations and philanthropic donors, who fund early childhood and early learning and literacy projects.

The event will be held June 30-July 2 in Denver, Colorado. We are really looking forward to it.

Grade-Level Reading Success at Morningside Elementary in Brownsville, Texas

Lately I’ve been browsing the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading website, which has a feature called “Bright Spots,” a collection of local success stories about reading programs.

One of those bright spots is Morningside Elementary School in Brownsville, Texas. About 99 percent of the kids are Hispanic. About 99 percent are on the free or reduced-price lunch program (FARM). About 80 percent are Spanish speakers.

This is a demographic that typically haunts the less- than-excellent categories of statewide standardized performance tests. Not at Morningside. Quoting from the website:

“During exam time at Morningside Elementary, big posters appear with a simple message: 90%. ‘I expect everyone to get at least 90 percent on the test,’ says Principal Dolores Cisneros Emerson. Ambitious? Yes, but consider that 100 percent of Morningside third graders — virtually all from low-income families —were reading at grade level on the state assessment test last year, and 55 percent were commended for having no more than three questions wrong. Emerson expects excellence from Morningside students, no matter where they come from. Benchmarking, regrouping, individualized instruction, tutorials, and relentless optimism get results.”

“It’s true,” said Morningside Principal Delores Cisneros Emerson, when I asked her about the bright spot description. “We’re awesome. Let me tell you. We’re the best.”

The school uses the aforementioned benchmarking to determine individual strengths and weaknesses. Kids who are performing poorly are placed in smaller sized classes and meet with an “interventionist” to work on skills.

The school has regular tutorials, three days a week in the fall and spring, to help kids who are not doing well and kids who could be doing better with a little push. Ten times a year the school has tutorials on Saturdays to make sure the kids get enough time with the teachers.

2012 AAC Grade Level Reading Award Webinar

Tune in to a webinar for the 2012 All-America City Grade-Level Reading Award hosted by the United Way, the National League of Cities, the National Civic League and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.  Part 1 of the webinar will be September 20 at 2:00 pm EDT.  Part 2 of the webinar, featuring local perspectives on the benefits of the All-America City Awards will be Oct 3 at 2:00 pm EDT.  For more information link here.

Here are some other useful resources for those interested in finding out more about the AAC GLR awards.

2012 AAC Letter of Intent

Sample Letter of Intent (Be patient. It takes a minute to load the Word document.)

Frequently asked questions

Campaign for Grade Level Reading Backgrounder

Guidelines for Mayors

Guidelines for Community-based Organizations

Guidelines for Business Leaders

Campaign for Grade Level Reading Video

Archived Webinar Presentation (PDF) on AAC 2012

Eden, North Carolina’s Higher Education Initiative

Originally posted on the State of the Re:Union website:

Everyone knows how important education is for the economic prospects of a community or region. But who would have thought that low education attainment levels would lead to a scarcity of supermarkets?

Eden, a town of about 16,000 in Rockingham County, North Carolina, found this out the hard way in 2005, when one of the community’s few groceries closed and the locals got up a petition asking a supermarket chain to open a new store. They already had a site picked out and gathered around 2000 signatures. But the supermarket chain took a pass on Eden. The reason: the percentage of residents with college degrees—about 10.8 percent—was considered too low.

The activists merged with an existing community group to form the Eden Education Foundation, and later, broadening their focus, the Rockingham County Education Foundation. Working with the University of North Carolina, the group brought in two new college counselors to split their time between four county high schools advising kids who had never seen themselves as potential college grads.

Richmond, Indiana Third Grade Reading Academy

In 2009, Richmond won an All-America City Award from the National Civic League for outstanding civic accomplishments. The Third Grade Reading Academy was one of the successful local programs highlighted in their application for the award.

Jointly funded by the school district now, the academy is in its fourth year, and word of its success has spread. Two communities in Canada are now using it as a model for their summer reading programs, although they are using a different name, the Reading University. “They can call it anything they want to,” says Vic Jose, one of the academy founders, “as long as they are helping third graders reach their potential.”

Here is a blog post I did on the reading academy for State of the Re:Union. And here is Jeff’s more recent video highlighting the program.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading – Richmond, Indiana from Jeffrey Hatcher on Vimeo.

The 2012 All-America City Awards will have a special focus on community reading programs. Find out more by linking here.

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