Marshalltown schools, service agencies and city officials have laid plans to get 90 percent of third-graders reading proficient by 2016, and that plan has earned the city an All-America City distinction from the National Civic League.
But, Randy Wetmore, city administrator, said unlike the city's vie for the award last year, which was predicated on completed work, this year's nod requires a lot of work by a lot of people.
Luckily, Arlene McAtee, one of the people who spearheaded the effort to capture the National Civic League honor, said more than 150 people logged more than 750 hours designing the program, and they are confident it will make a difference.
She detailed the program's goals at the Marshalltown City Council meeting Monday night.
The reading program will target three areas in an attempt to increase reading proficiency: improving school readiness for pre-kindergartners, addressing summer learning loss and improving attendance.
Addressing gray areas is key, she said.
McAtee said, according to Dynamic Indicators for Basic Early Literacy Skill (DIBELS) assessments, only 42 percent of children entering kindergarten are ready to learn.
The program sets a goal of 85 percent. She said that goal can be achieved by clarifying expectations.
"What do we want our children to know or be able to do when they walk through those doors?" she said.
Putting more programs in place like the Rogers Elementary summer learning program will help students, especially low-income students who tend to suffer the most learning loss in the summer months, retain more of their education year to year.
She said the reading initiative aims to have another program similar to Rogers's in place by 2016.
Another gray area lies in parents not understanding the importance of attendance. More than 10 percent of students miss more than 10 percent of the school year, McAtee said.
"We need to make sure all parents know every day counts," she said. "Missing any day of school is going to impact that child's education."
McAtee said the program is not intended to replace schools or parents, but instead work with them.
The National Civil League has designated more than 600 communities as All-America Cities. This year, Marshalltown is one of 14 cities named - three of which are in Iowa.
Sue Martin, of the Martha Ellen Tye Foundation, was also instrumental in Marshalltown gaining the award.
She said the award could even help bolster economic growth.
"It's been shown ... when companies in your town mention the award and they make mention of it to their own employees, so that when they are retaining or looking for additional workers - this has some meaning," Martin said. "The award honors and celebrates problem solvers."
Wetmore, who Martin noted as being the person who originally suggested that Marshalltown pursue the award, said talks with people in Denver, where the National Civic League presented the award July 2, made him consider other aspects of the program.
For instance, he said he hadn't considered the national security element of reading. Wetmore said many people who want to pursue careers in national security cannot pass the entrance exam.
"We may not think it's a huge issue here, but it is an issue," he said. "We get to be on the cutting edge making a difference."
Marshalltown is able to call itself an All-America City until 2016.
Mayor Gene Beach said every citizen can step up to help make this program work.