Lindsey Foat — The Hale Center for Journalism
It’s been nearly two years since Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James launched Turn the Page KC, a community initiative to get students reading on grade level by third grade.
Today the initiative announced its first dedicated staff member, Mike English. English accepted the position as the initiative’s first executive director this month.
“Between (The Local Investment Commission) and the mayor’s office, I feel like (Turn the Page) has been able to accomplish quite a bit,” English said. “Hopefully with me here we’ll be able to use all the progress they’ve made as kind of a trampoline and just accelerate all the support we can provide to summer programs, kids, parents and schools.”
In January Turn the Page KC released the first study examining how summer learning programs are impacting students’ test scores.
“At three summer programs in particular that collected the data, students were actually gaining literacy skills over the summer, whereas most kids lose them,” English said. “Now that we know these summer programs work, it’s a matter of expanding capacity and making sure that the students who need it the most get slots in those programs.”
In addition to financial management and fundraising, English sees his role as a community liaison and connector of early literacy resources in Kansas City.
English originally hails from Pennsylvania and got his start managing the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting civic and community engagement for young professionals.
After moving to Kansas City in 2006, English worked at the Kauffman Foundation.
“So that was sort of my introduction to education policy and more so how to work with and be helpful to schools,” English said.
While working at the Kauffman Foundation, English said that the Great Recession triggered an an interest in financial literacy and economic education for K–12 students.
That passion led English to taking a position as the president of the Missouri Council on Economic Education, which is based at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“A lot of that work was based on the idea that providing resources and professional development to teachers, you can improve the educational opportunities for students on a massive scale,” English said.
Through MCEE, English collaborated with teachers and students across the state, but said working with Kansas City Public Schools made him look for opportunities to focus more intensely on education in the city.
“My passion is helping to improve educational opportunities, especially for kids in low-to-moderate income schools,” English said. “There are some really powerful predictors of academic success …. The ability to read by the end of third grade at grade level is perhaps the most significant predictor of all. You can’t read to learn in the higher grades if you don’t learn to read when you’re younger.”
English’s interest in serving Kansas City and literacy efforts led him to Turn the Page KC.
Comparing Turn the Page KC to other grade-level reading initiatives across the country, English said that Kansas City seems to be ahead of the game in terms of building collaborative relationships among schools, local education nonprofits and other early literacy organizations.
“Our long-term goal is to increase reading proficiency by third grade,” English said. “To do that, we’ve identified four areas where, if we can meet these supporting outcomes, then third grade reading proficiency will naturally follow.”
The four supportive areas are summer learning, school readiness, school attendance and increasing the number of volunteer reading mentors.
In the immediate future, English will be turning his attention to coordinating summer learning efforts and building the initiative’s volunteer base.
English said that sometime in the spring, Turn the Page KC will host a community event to build awareness and gather more volunteers.
“One of the key elements or strategies of this organization is to engage volunteers,” English said. “We would like to attract, recruit and train thousands of volunteers.”
Developing a systematic way to manage so many volunteers is something English said they’re working on, and he hopes that, in addition to placing volunteers into summer learning programs, in the fall they will be poised to place volunteers where they are most needed: in classrooms.
“When students receive the extra help they need, whether it be in school, after school or during the summer, that it does make a difference,” English said. “If we work together — and I mean a lot of people working together — we can really improve the futures of kids whose futures are in peril.”