Office of Education

Power of K Literacy Breakfast - September 20, 2016


Good morning. Thank you all for joining us today and thank you to Phil Francis and John Whiteman for the passion and possibility you have brought to the important cause of educating our kindergarteners. I would also like to thank Steve Seleznow at the Arizona Community Foundation, the Stardust Foundation and Greater Phoenix Leadership for their engagement on this critical issue. We are here today with ONE COMMON GOAL – to make the words “Opportunity for All” a reality for Arizona’s children. No matter their background; no matter their zip code – all Arizona kids deserve an extraordinary education, as early in life as possible.

Just last week, we unveiled a BOLD vision for our state: Achieve60AZ. Arm-in-arm with business, higher education and K-12 leaders, we are committing to RISE as a state and move the needle on career and college readiness. Our goal? By 2030, at least 60 percent of working age adults will be holding a college degree or career training. It’s daring. And central to this future is early literacy. WE KNOW that a child’s success in school and in life starts with -- and DEPENDS -- on their ability to read. And the ability to read, write, listen and speak are fundamental principles of learning. These skills aren’t something students SHOULD HAVE. It’s something they MUST HAVE. And it’s our responsibility as leaders to build the educational environment and opportunities for their success.
We know 3rd grade reading proficiency is a strong predictor of a child’s success throughout their educational journey. But if you ask any 3rd grade teacher where reading proficiency begins, they’ll tell you it occurs long before a child’s first day of school. Our state’s 3rd grade reading initiative – led by Read On Arizona and in partnership with 700 schools in the state – is committed to successful literacy outcomes for our youngest children through a results-based, data driven, and strategic approach. Read On advocates early literacy BEFORE kindergarten, resulting in a higher quality and more productive kindergarten experience.
Research and common sense tells us that literacy success hinges on the priorities that WE – as parents – set for our children from their first moments of life. All learning BEGINS at home. Parents are a child’s FIRST teacher, and parents who prioritize reading at home will give their kids a MAJOR head start. Every parent remembers that FIRST book you read with your child. With my boys, it was “The Cat In The Hat.” After reading it several hundred times, I think I can probably still do the voices. Along with parental involvement, strong literacy outcomes depend on a great teacher in the classroom, one who is constantly guiding and tailoring a child’s learning. Over the last two years, in dozens of schools all across our state – I have walked the hallways and watched in classrooms some PHENOMENAL educators. Simply put – I have been BLOWN AWAY. Our teachers are not only teaching our kids HOW to read – but they’re inspiring them to LOVE to read. I want our teachers to know: We value the work you do. I know its hard work. I know its heavy lifting. But EVERYTHING we are talking about here today depends on your ability to be successful. We need the best talent in the classroom and their excellence must be rewarded and respected. The passion our teachers demonstrate for reading fosters creativity, curiosity and innovation in our kids, and follows them for a lifetime.
 We know the foundations for success:
  • A parent’s guiding hand;
  • A teacher’s love of learning;
  • And the necessary resources to create a learning path for every student.
In Arizona, a majority of our public schools offer all-day kindergarten. And as we look at further, targeted investment in K-12 education – my goal is to see these programs available to even more students. There’s no issue in education more unifying, or more pressing, than early literacy. 
Again, thank you Phil and John for bringing us together today for this important cause. And to President Crow, Superintendent Cowan and Superintendent Hightower for your leadership.
What we want for Arizona’s future requires us to know what we need in Arizona today. Every challenge our state faces, comes back to education. If we can set the next generation of Arizonans on a path to success, and start early, we will be a stronger, healthier, safer and more prosperous people. Our children are counting on us. We won’t let them down.
Thank you.