by Jim Boyle
The state of Tennessee decides on the number of prison beds it will need down the road by the number of children who can’t read by the end of third grade.
Minnesota uses different mathematical formulas, but the same correlation could probably be made.
“Reading by third grade is a critical indicator of success,” said Charlie Blesener, the director of District 728 Community Education and Community Engagement. “If you’re a successful reader at third grade you have a very bright and optimistic future. The sky is the limit.”
These students are likely to graduate from high school and have an array of options when considering college, vocational training or the military. Entry into the workforce, however, might be another story for today’s third-graders a dozen years from now.
The workforce will be smaller and much more competitive. Many businesses will likely struggle to find qualified candidates.
It is with this concern in mind that the three local chambers of commerce agreed to sponsor an early childhood summit. So has the school district and the Minnesota School of Business.
“We need to hit home runs on 100 percent of our kids,” Blesener said. “Businesses can ill afford to have the education system swing and miss on a kid.”
Former Minnesota Gov. Al Quie will headline the Wednesday, April 25 luncheon event at Rockwoods Banquet Center in Otsego. The program is slated from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
There also will be information on the local early childhood scene presented and information about the economic benefits of investing in early education.
Business leaders, community group members, foundation members, educational leaders, faith leaders, legislators and others are encouraged to attend.
“The one thing I keep hearing from businesses is they need quality people to hire,” said Debbi Rydberg, president of the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce. “The demographics are not changing. All the 5-year-olds that are going to be born have already been born. We can’t go back and make up ground.”
The Zimmerman Chamber of Commerce and the I-94 Chamber of Commerce along with the Elk River Chamber are sponsoring the event along with the Elk River Area Early Childhood Coalition and the Elk River Area School District. The Minnesota School of Business also is a sponsor.
Considering that about 50 percent of Minnesota’s youngest children are unprepared to enter kindergarten, the challenge ahead is daunting.
Quie has been a member of the board of Ready 4 K and is honorary co-chair of Minnesota School Readiness Business Advisory Council.
As an elected official, he represented Rice County in the Minnesota State Senate, served 20 years in Congress from southeastern Minnesota and, in 1978, was elected governor of Minnesota, serving until January 1983.
Throughout his public and private life, Quie has advanced education, family and faith life.
He wrote the book “Riding the Divide,” chronicling a horseback adventure over a number of years where he rode through the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico.
Prison Fellowship activities have shown Quie “up front and personal” the failure of lives because of a lack of understanding about brain development, parenting and constructive childhoods.
The Elk River Area Early Childhood Coalition is one of 86 coalitions throughout the state that has been launched by the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative that was formed by the McKnight Foundation.
“Minnesota’s social and economic prosperity depends on every child getting a strong, early start toward reaching their full potential,” said Kate Wolfard, president of the McKnight Foundation.
The Elk River Coalition believes all young children have the right to a healthy life of learning, achieving and succeeding. It has been working on three priority initiatives in 2012. They include:
•Increase community members’ knowledge of and access to needed resources and opportunities in our community.
•Increase the engagement of fathers and male role models in the lives of young children, so that both the children and fathers benefit.
•All children in our community are ready for kindergarten — no exceptions.
Early Childhood Summit:
Featured speaker: Former Gov. Al Quie.
When: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, April 25
Where: Rockwoods Banquet Center, 9100 Quaday Ave. N.E., Otsego
Tickets: $15. Register at www.728community ed.com or at 763-241-3524 by April 23.