CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Trident United Way, along with all four area school district superintendents, hosted a joint-press conference on Tuesday where they announced the "Reading by Third" initiative.
This pilot program is designed to give teachers additional tools to improve literacy among early readers.
In order for that to happen, Trident United Way committed to a $1.5 million investment over three years to bring innovative teacher training to Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester 2 and Dorchester 4 school districts.
School leaders say they've been combating reading proficiency for a long time.
In 2016, 4,320 third graders did not meet reading standards in the tri-county region.
Only 52 percent were reading at grade level by the end of the school year.
Reading on grade-level by the end of third grade is a leading indicator of high school graduation and later academic success.
"It is critically important that children learn to read by third grade so that they can then read to learn," Dorchester County School District 2 Superintendent, Joe Pye, said. "The Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester districts have in common the need to do a better job in every classroom and every elementary school, especially in support of those who come to kindergarten already behind."
Leaders say the "Reading by Third" initiative will focus on teacher learning and consistent evaluation across all districts.
"The process of investing in teachers, in essence training the trainer, will empower teachers to observe how a child is responding to lessons. Then make changes as necessary to give the child and themselves the best chances for success," Trident United Way's Vice President of Community Impact, Amanda Lawrence, said.
This initiative will focus on pre-K students in four schools in Charleston County.
In Berkeley, Dorchester 2 and Dorchester 4 the initiative will be implemented in eight schools and the focus will be on students in kindergarten through
School leaders agree literacy needs to start as early as possible.
"The earlier children are starting to be engaged in educational activities – the better off their long-term prospects for a successful educational outcome are," Superintendent of Charleston County Schools, Dr. Gerrita Postlewait said.
Through this program – school leaders believe they'll be able to make an impact for years to come.
"As we continue to expand teachers, hopefully that continues to multiply," Interim Berkeley County Superintendent Deon Jackson said.
"We have incredibly talented school teachers who are facing ever increasing odds as they work to educate the young minds of the tri-county area. Because no one teacher, no one school district, can solve these challenges alone," Trident United Way's President and CEO, Chris Kerrigan, said. "We have worked with the dedicated members of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester 2 and Dorchester 4 school districts to find a solution to this pressing community issue."
Approximately 246 educators attended trainings with instructors from the Lastinger Center over the summer and will be employing new instructional models throughout the 2017-2018 school year.
The team from the University of Florida Lastinger Center will continue to coach and support teachers.
The pilot project is designed to run for a period of three years and is subject to review on an annual basis.