SP Leaders Celebrate All-America Award
Mayor David McNeill was not surprised when Southern Pines was named an All-America City for its Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Community Network.
“What we have here is another example of what can be accomplished when focused people roll up their sleeves to meet a desired outcome,” McNeill said. “You just never know what might happen.”
McNeill, current and former politicians, and other community leaders gathered Wednesday at the Southern Pines Police Department to celebrate the award.
“If you don’t do everything you can to educate the children, you literally handcuff the future potential of your community,” said former Mayor Mike Haney, who presented the All-America City plaque to McNeill.
Southern Pines was one of 14 winners of the prestigious award sponsored by the National Civic League. The winners were announced last July in Denver.
Caroline Eddy, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, said the Southern Pines contingent “sat nervously as a group” during the ceremony.
“Of course, we were all smiles when they started describing Southern Pines,” said Eddy, who attended the event. “I’ve never been prouder of our town than that day in Denver. It was part celebration and part call to action.”
The town was nominated for the grade-level reading campaign, a collective strategy designed to engage the community in the learning process. Called “Southern Pines Grows Great Readers,” the campaign dovetails with the Moore County Schools’ slogan “Growing to Greatness.”
Southern Pines Library Director Lynn Thompson, who also went to Denver, said the award is rooted in the town’s Comprehensive Long-Range Plan.
“During our strategic planning process, the library looked at how we could be a bridge between the town and education,” Thompson said. “We got a lot of enthusiasm going for the grade-level reading project during our kickoff last September. We’ve always had tremendous partners and we’re still accepting new partners. It’s not too late to get involved.”
The National Civic League, which sponsors the annual award competition, usually asks entrants to provide three community improvement projects. For this year, the National Civic League joined with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to emphasize education.
The campaign strategy calls for attacking on three fronts: school readiness, attendance and summer learning loss. The program is designed to ensure students arrive at kindergarten ready to learn, attend school regularly, and keep learning through summer months.
Addressing the reading problems in schools has been a long process. After collecting data, the Growing Great Readers committee realized that Southern Pines is above the national average for third- grade reading but falls behind in subsequent grades.
Not reading on level by third grade drastically decreases the likelihood the student will graduate, according to education research.
“I am very excited about what this means for the children of Moore County,” said Linda Pearson, executive director of the United Way of Moore County. “I’m just waiting to see what we can do next.”
Town Manager Reagan Parsons said the award only confirmed what “everyone in this room already knew about Southern Pines.”
“We’ve got a great civic culture here,” Parsons said. “This is really about bringing our synergies together. The award was based on our application. The real project is seeing that these kids can read.”
Parsons noted that more than 600 children participated in the town’s summer reading programs.
“That’s more than three times the usual number,” he said. “The project’s goal is to have 90 percent of Moore County third-graders reading at grade level by 2020. I’d like to see 100 percent.
“We need to make sure the program touches each and every child along the way. It’s going to be a great thing moving forward.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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