Good afternoon. Thank you, Terri – and thank you all for having me back again this year for another terrific summit. It’s great to see so many dedicated education and business leaders rallied around the cause that brings us together today. There’s no issue in education more unifying, or more pressing, than early literacy. And that’s because a child’s success in school, and in life, starts with -- and DEPENDS ON -- their ability to read.
As students and educators all across Arizona kick off back-to-school season this month, I have the opportunity again this year to visit some truly exemplary public schools. Just this morning, I had the pleasure of meeting with the incredible students, staff and educators at Legacy Traditional School, in Maricopa: An A-rated school whose well-rounded curriculum ... dedication to excellence ... and commitment to student achievement 365 days a year -- have made Legacy a model in Arizona and throughout the nation. This is a school that’s not just focused on producing great students, but also great CITIZENS. And they are doing a remarkable job. Today marked the first of six stops on this year’s back-to-school tour – and it was only fitting that the focus of our visit was on the importance of literacy.T he ability to read and write is a fundamental principle of learning. It is not something students should have, it is something they MUST have.
And the early years are crucial. We know that children begin developing language and early literacy skills from birth – with 90 percent of their critical brain development happening before they even reach kindergarten. And research shows brain development is influenced by experiences – most powerfully through positive interactions with caring adults in their lives. These interactions happen with parents, grandparents and family members. But also -- and just as important -- they occur in quality childcare, preschool programs, and other early learning environments. The fact that gaps in children’s vocabulary can appear as early as 18 months is clear evidence that these early experiences make a big difference ... and can have long-term implications.
The early years are the best opportunity to help our young children develop the language skills and abilities that are the foundation for reading – and a catalyst of future success in school and life. Third grade proficiency is also strong predictor of high school graduation and college attendance. But third grade proficiency doesn’t start in the third grade. Reading must be taught, encouraged and practiced – as early and as often as possible. That’s why I’m proud to partner with Read On Arizona -- our state’s third grade reading initiative. Read On, and its school partners, are committed to improving language and literacy outcomes for our youngest children. And their results-based, data-driven, and strategic approach continue to drive the success of the program and this critically important work.
It’s remarkable that there are now 25 communities and over 700 schools across Arizona engaged in this mission – all working to improve language and reading proficiency for our children, especially our most disadvantaged. I’m here to support the important work you’re doing, and I’m committed to supporting early literacy as a front-burner priority for our state. To help build public awareness of the importance of reading, this past Spring, my Office of Education launched its “Reading is Essential!” program. We started with “Read Across America Day” at Encanto Elementary, in the Osborn School District. That same day, we joined the Arizona Cardinals at the Salvation Army Kroc Center, where we celebrated the birthday of everyone’s favorite children’s author, Dr. Seuss.
In March, the Office launched a month-long bookmark design contest for Arizona elementary students, with the theme, “Why I Love Arizona.” Within two weeks, we received 1,800 entries from young people all across the state. Not only was it a fun project for these kids ... who got to compete to have their artwork displayed on social media AND to visitors at the State Capitol...but it was encouraging to hear from teachers that this contest got their students excited about reading – and just in time for summer break. Then in May, for the second year in a row, we embarked on a Summer Reading Tour to get students excited about reading over their summer break. My wife, Angela, visited several Arizona schools as a Scholastic Summer Reading Ambassador.
Through these initiatives, and continued reforms and innovations, we will continue to be unwavering champions of early literacy and student success. I’m proud that, in May, Arizonans secured a historic win for public education. Through the passage of Prop. 123, EVERY public school in Arizona will see its share of $3.5 BILLION NEW DOLLARS over the next 10 years. I’m also excited that that Arizona was selected by the National Governor’s Association as one of a handful of states to receive a grant to develop a comprehensive strategy for early care and education.
Our task force – consisting of members from my Office of Education, Read On Arizona, First Things First, the Departments Of Education and Economic Security, and others – is working toward three goals:
- Building educator capacity across the early childhood workforce;
- Implementing effective practices focused on improving early literacy and kindergarten preparedness; and
- Increasing quality and access to early care and education.
These are important priorities for our state. And as we continue to address them, together, I’m reminded of something I once read:
"Literacy is the road to human progress -- and the means through which every man, woman and child can reach his or her full potential.”
You are all champions of a worthy and vital cause – and I’m proud to join you. Thank you – and keep up the outstanding work.