PART 2: Childhood literacy first but not last project for Connect Knox

Connect Knox 2(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series describing the evolution of an organization called Connect Knox and its focus on the future of the community.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

After slicing and dicing a vast amount of data about the local community, the Connect Knox steering committee determined that the top priority for the 2018 calendar year would be an effort to address childhood literacy.

Making the decision not only included analyzing information, but also having individual steering committee members going back to their respective constituencies to get feedback on the possible priorities under consideration. That’s important if you want to run an inclusive initiative.

“We looked at a number of potential priorities but wanted to choose one that the community could engage with and begin to make a difference,” Kristy Altman, Connect Knox Director, told us. “Education, specifically third grade reading proficiency, became the top priority.”

It is clearly a subject on the minds of many parents, grandparents and guardians.

In a recent presentation, John Tolsma, Chair of the Connect Knox steering committee, noted that “early childhood literacy is not a public school issue or a private school issue. It’s not a white issue or a black issue or a brown issue. It’s not a conservative issue or a liberal issue. It’s a community issue.”

Altman added that the group’s approach is “to shine the spotlight on literacy. We want to pull together a best practices document for parents on how they can encourage reading and literacy in the home.”

In that regard, Connect Knox is currently compiling an inventory of existing programs and initiatives that are working.

“We have about two dozen people on our literacy planning group,” Altman says.

For individuals interested in doing something to help address the issue, she says a good place to begin is being a volunteer in the “Leaders for Readers” initiative of the Great Schools Partnership.

What’s next for Connect Knox? The steering committee is in the midst of exploring priorities to consider for 2019. That work will continue through much of this year before a two-day steering committee retreat in September to make a selection.

The “Power Up! Committee,” chaired by Laurens Tullock, now a private consultant, will be updating the community survey conducted last year with several changes planned to ensure better inclusion.

Altman says the team “learned a lot of lessons” with the inaugural computer-based data gathering. Those challenges included everything from access to computers among many underserved populations to language nuances as words were translated from English to Spanish.

To help address those barrier issues, Connect Knox will be utilizing focus groups this year.

Connect Knox also has a “Plug In! Committee” that is chaired by Phyllis Nichols of the Knoxville Area Urban League. That group is responsible for creating conversations around topics important to Knoxville’s future. Events could range from big presentations like the recent speech by Thomas Friedman, the well-known author and winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, to small, neighborhood discussions.

The mission of Connect Knox is best captured in these words from the initiative’s webpage: “Simply stated, Connect Knox is about connecting the right people to the right issues at the right time.”

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