W.C. Gentry, Read it Forward Jacksonville Coalition Chairman

W.C. Gentry, Chairman

Nearly half of Duval County students read below grade level.*

of juveniles in detention are illiterate*
of inmates cannot read above 4th grade level*
The age at which the battle for academic success is likely won or lost*

*Citations for reports and statistics may be found here.

Read It Forward Jax Coalition is seeking to put a take home reading library in every K-3 classroom and support lending libraries throughout our community.

In the last available statewide assessment, here’s how Duval County kids fared:



3rd graders deemed proficient in reading



did not have basic reading skills

Duval’s 10th graders ranked 52nd out of 67 counties in Florida – last among large urban counties.

A Message from Our Chairman

W.C. Gentry

Our youngest children are suffering a terrible, preventable affliction; and as with most scourges, our most vulnerable children suffer the greatest harm. It leaves many of our eight and nine year olds hopeless and so disabled they will not graduate from high school, and nearly 70% of them will end up on welfare or in jail. This disorder robs our community of enormous human potential and costs our nation billions of dollars in lost productivity and greatly increased costs of Welfare and incarceration. Most importantly, it deprives our children of the ability to achieve their full potential, become contributing members of society and enjoy the American Dream.1

The malady is illiteracy and it’s predictable – almost guaranteed – long term ill effects set in by the end of third grade.

Why Read It Forward Jax Coalition?

Being a proficient reader is vital to most everything we do, from math and science to grocery shopping, filling out an employment application or understanding a technical manual to work on an assembly line. Obviously, it is essential to completing high school, going on to post secondary education and working in any profession. Just as importantly, reading enriches the human spirit, teaches critical thinking and enables us to be informed participants in the political and social systems that govern our lives.

The absence of this fundamental tool is directly correlated to dropping out of school, joblessness, dependency, crime and even violence. Jacksonville’s growing violent crime problems can be directly correlated to lack of reading proficiency and education, as demonstrated by repeated statistical analyses showing that over 80% of juveniles in detention are illiterate and over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above the fourth grade level.

Reading to Learn

Although somewhat of an over simplification, it is frequently said we “learn to read” through the third grade and then, we “read to learn”. Learning to read is a scaffolding process: key fundamental skills must be mastered at each stage to create the foundation for increasingly more complex competencies necessary to becoming a proficient reader. If these skills are not mastered by the end of third grade, the child’s ability to “read to learn” is greatly compromised. Once in the “reading to learn” stages of education, it becomes increasingly difficult to catch up and many children become frustrated and hopeless – a scenario which occurs with depressing frequency throughout Duval County.

Hope for the Future

In the midst of this crisis, there is good news for our children. First, the state has finally jettisoned the high stakes, punitive FCAT driven regimen that has plagued our kids and families for over a decade; a system of education that put little emphasis on critical reading skills, even less on writing and practically none on language. In its place, Florida – like the great majority of other states – has adopted the Common Core which is called Florida Standards. The Common Core curriculum is nothing more than common sense. It puts a premium on the skills necessary to be successful in the twenty first century in career and college, i.e., high level reading proficiency, critical thinking and the ability to communicate in writing and in speech. Thus, the state has now freed our school system to move back to the future and teach our children the fundamental skills that are essential for their success through high school, college and in life.

Second, under the leadership of Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, the School District has reordered its scarce financial resources and is keenly focused on training its teachers and leaders to teach not only the fundamental K-3 competencies, but empowering all students to critically think and communicate. It has adopted a new curriculum that demands and reinforces high level reading and writing skills, analytical thinking and communication in all courses.

Engaging the Community

But, our schools cannot close the literacy gap alone. It is neigh impossible for children to be proficient readers by the end of third grade if they come to kindergarten unprepared and without pre-kindergarten literacy skills. And, for those students who are in the later grades who are not reading at grade level, it is virtually impossible for them to catch up during the school day while they are struggling to pass their courses.

Our schools are doing their part. The community must step up and do its part to finally stop this age old community stigma of illiteracy. That is why the Read It Forward Jax Coalition has been formed.

Each of us who has been successful in our jobs or career could not have done so without being able to read well, critically think and communicate. Some of us from modest means were fortunate to grow up in an environment that nurtured and celebrated our reading. Sadly, many poor children do not. Read It Forward Jax Coalition is an opportunity for those of us who have been blessed with the gift of reading to give back to our children who need it so much.

Reading In and Outside School

Virtually every child can learn to read proficiently by the third grade if they are taught well in school and have the necessary support after school. That’s why the Read It Forward Jax Coalition has come together to expand reading opportunities for our children at every intersection – before they enroll in school, after the school day, during the summer and throughout their community. Having access to books that are fun is critical to children enjoying reading and expanding their reading proficiency. That is why the Read It Forward Jax Coalition is seeking to put a take home reading library in every K-3 classroom and lending libraries throughout our community.

A Better Jacksonville

Education – of which reading is the cornerstone – is the key to curing our City’s chronic ills. Jacksonville cannot become the great city its people want and deserve unless the impoverishment of some of its communities is solved. It cannot achieve its potential when so many of its children are unable to read and suffering academic failure. It cannot grow and sustain economic development without a workforce of young people who can critically think and communicate and be trained in twenty first century jobs.

Forgetting the economic and societal benefits that compel our undertaking, it is more than that. The people of Jacksonville have great heart; that heart demands we finally step up as a community and give the gift of reading to all our children, even the most impoverished, because they are God’s gift to us and they are our responsibility.


1There is a plethora of studies on the importance of reading proficiency by grade three and the relationship of illiteracy to poverty, unemployment and crime and its societal cost. Some readily accessible reports addressing these issues are Calculating the Cost of Reading Failure, Education-Consumers.org (2014); Early Warning Confirmed, Arnie E. Casey Foundation, aecf.org (2013); ReadingPartners.org, Do Prisons use Third Grade Reading Scores to Predict…Prison Beds? (10/7/2013); The Atlantic, “An Urban Myth That Should Be True (7/2/2012); DoSomething.org, Third Grade Reading; BegintoRead.com: Literacy Statistics.

If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world,
I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.

Maya Angelou