County lends backing to reading initiative

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Sincere thanks once again to Berkshire Health Systems’ (BHS) President and CEO David Phelps ("Berkshire Health Systems CEO lauded at annual meeting," Eagle, January 24) for his leadership and support well beyond the walls of his award-winning organization. Led by Mr. Phelps, BHS contributed $10,000 to Pittsfield Promise, an early learning initiative led by Berkshire Priorities in partnership with Berkshire United Way, whose goal is to increase third-grade reading proficiency from 61 percent in 2011 to 90 percent by 2020.

BHS’s investment will fund technical assistance from Strategies for Children, a statewide advocacy group for early education and literacy, and the Massachusetts Reading Network it formed linking five cities (Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Holyoke and Pittsfield) to work collaboratively by sharing research, policy, and practice information to move the needle on third-grade reading proficiency, the first marker of childhood success.

On Feb. 7, Berkshire United Way and Strategies for Children held a luncheon with 85 educators, service providers, legislators, and community leaders to share information on the governor’s proposed budget and demonstrate a tool for gauging program effectiveness that targets groups with the greatest potential for improvement. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Other community leaders are stepping up as well. Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy has committed Service Learning Department professional Mary Parkman to help Pittsfield Promise train BCC student volunteers to administer surveys across the community to identify bright spots, access points, and catalog resources that will be used to build a map of opportunities to infuse literacy into the lives of children.

On Feb. 5, 45 families attended a parent focus group at Morningside Community School hosted by Gail Krumpholz and Shirley Edgerton, community leaders and members of Pittsfield Promise’s Family Engagement subcommittee. Parents discussed hopes and dreams for their children as well as barriers to fulfilling those dreams and participants considered ways to work together to ensure all our children have the tools and resources to ensure success.

My point in detailing these activities is to thank these individuals and organizations and at the same time demonstrate the range of resources, activities and expertise being brought to bear on a single, critical community issue. Without them our 90 percent reading proficiency goal would be out of reach. Contact me at to get involved or Like Berkshire United Way on Facebook to stay updated.



The writer is Early Childhood Coordinator for Berkshire United Way and a member of Pittsfield Promise.



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