“Literacy = Self-sufficiency = A Healthy Community”

I am often asked to speak about the needs of the High Point community and inevitably everyone wants to know what is our most critical need. Is it quality healthcare, equal access to healthy food, affordable housing, crime and gang violence, or school graduation rates? Is it all the above? The answer I give is that every one of these issues are significant, but there is one that impacts all the others and it is High Point’s historical struggle with literacy.

If you look deep enough into any serious challenge we are currently experiencing in our community, you will eventually find the root cause is a lack of education and more specifically, our unacceptably low literacy rates. There has never been a more potentially damaging issue facing our city. Our local students’ reading test scores have dropped more sharply in the 2 years of school disruption than they have in 30 years. Consider the following for the 2021-22 school year; at the beginning of the year in High Point, only 44% of students entering 3rd grade were reading at grade level. At the end of 8th grade only 38% were testing as proficient readers, and in 10th grade only 55% of those students completing English 2 were meeting proficiency on the End of Course exams.

The inability to read with comprehension, whether we are talking about K-12 students, or adults in the workforce, is High Point’s most critical challenge to our future success as a community. The grim reality is this, students who cannot read will struggle to navigate our public school system and as adults they will be unable to thrive in today’s increasingly competitive work environment.

Guilford County Schools (GCS) have invested federal relief dollars to jumpstart recovery methods that are helping our students succeed. It is important to note that this literacy crisis in High Point is not just a GCS issue. Our educators have been working hard on literacy solutions and they have programs that do work. However, this must be a sustained effort that will always demand additional funding and human capital. This is why High Point’s private, business, and philanthropic sectors must get involved. If we truly want to “level the playing field” by enabling our entire population to reach their fullest potential we must make literacy a top priority.

Keep in mind, today the great societal divide is no longer just racial and economic; it is now being measured by the difference between those who can access knowledge and use it to enhance their lives, and those who cannot. Which means we as a community can take on this fight to improve literacy in High Point because it is a right decision from a moral and ethical perspective, or we can do it because it is an absolute economic development imperative.

The High Point Community Foundation, in partnership with Guilford County Schools, believes addressing literacy upstream, at the very beginning of our children’s educational journey, is the most effective and cost-efficient approach. Over the next 2 years the HPCF Students First Initiative will be funding a “High Dosage Tutoring” model in the 1st and 2nd grades at 4 local elementary schools with the goal of eventually expanding this to all our elementary schools. We will also be raising funds to establish a permanent financial resource, a Students First Endowment, that will address our community’s most urgent educational needs in perpetuity.  Taking on High Point’s literacy deficit will be the first educational challenge this Fund will take on.

We have a rare and historical opportunity to address a single defining community issue that has the capacity to radically transform High Point’s Future for the better. Our core belief is that we are the ultimate “end-user” of our local schools’ student outcomes and by extension we have the most to gain, or lose in this most important initiative. Believe me when I say, no one will care more about this than we do and how we respond will one day become our legacy.  We will either reap the vast social and economic benefits of success, or we will inherit the whirlwind of failure, it is up to us to decide. For Good, For High Point, Forever.