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Literacy advocate: Reading fundamental to kidsí success
Munro Richardson leads Read Charlotte initiatives
Published Wednesday, September 20, 2017 12:53 pm
by Herbert L. White

Munro Richardson leads Read Charlotte’s campaign to double third-graders’ literacy rates by 2025.

Munro Richardson loves reading.

Richardson’s job as executive director at Read Charlotte is to improve children’s literacy, especially K-3 students struggling to read at grade level. Reading Charlotte, a 10-year initiative that hired Richardson when it launched in 2015, partners with community groups to spread the gospel of literacy. In 2014, only 40 percent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg third-graders could read at grade level, according to a report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The goal is to double reading proficiency by 2025.

“I’ve been bowled over by the support from the philanthropic, corporate, business, and education community, but also the real dissatisfaction that lots of people have in our community about so many of our children not being able to read by the end of third grade,” he said. “That’s something that people will tell you when interviewing, but to actually experience that is quite amazing.”

Among the initiatives Read Charlotte participates in include a data collaborative to improve the availability, quality and use of data to improve literacy as well as workshops where families are encouraged to read to children. It also partners with the public library for literacy outreach.

Richardson said the community’s renewed focus on literacy has helped open new ideas about programs and partnerships that have spread across the county. Research shows that third-graders who can’t read at proficient levels stand a greater chance of dropping out of school and ultimately funneling into the criminal justice system as part of the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” A national study by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that 85 percent of juveniles who come in contact with the justice system are functionally illiterate, as are 60 percent of prison inmates.

“I think the biggest difference from two years ago is one, we’re really clear about what matters, what works,” he said. “The board gave me enough room to really dig into that and I know with more certainty two years ago or five years ago what we need to focus on, and actually looking back I feel like I missed it before.

“The other part was the focus on systems and bringing the systems to the room. A lot of folks understand we need to do something about systems, but actually having the support of our board to bring a lot of folks together and deliberately get into systems…and their effect on programs and practices.”

Richardson, who earned master’s degrees from Harvard and Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, is a veteran of four academic and literacy startups before Read Charlotte’s board recruited him from Kansas City, Missouri. He was looking for a new challenge to build from the ground up.

“I came to Charlotte really looking to make an impact,” he said. “I turned down a job in Portland that actually would’ve paid more money to come here because I thought there was more opportunity to create more impact. I felt the community had enough right ingredients to do that.”

Building an organization and partnerships takes time and outreach, but Richardson said Charlotte has embraced children’s literacy as an important plank in making a better-educated community. His job is to continue the momentum.

“I like the blank canvas and having the ability to make decisions about what colors [are] on there,” he said. “I do think it’s collaborative, so think about it as the number of hands on the paintbrush filling in the canvas. It is a lot of work; it’s very different to go on when you have to do everything high and low from strategy to figuring out paper clips, but it’s great.”


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