Phila. schools getting $750K in book money from DNC host committee

Juliana Tammela picks a donated book in Kim Robertson's first grade class at Crossen Elementary School. The organizing committee from this summer's Democratic National Convention is donating nearly $1 million to the Philadelphia School District's Right Books campaign, which places classroom libraries at elementary schools across the city, Friday December 16, 2016 ( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )

The host committee for the 2016 Democratic National Convention is not quite finished with Philadelphia yet. It is expected to announce Monday that it will donate $750,000 to locate libraries in public-school classrooms across the city.

The donation to the Right Books Campaign - an effort of the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia - comes as the Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee closes up shop.

"We wanted to have a significant impact through the convention on the Philadelphia community," said former Gov. Ed Rendell, the committee's chair. "It's a bow on the entire convention process."

The committee's donation will bring the campaign - which aims to put nearly 800,000 books in elementary schools in the Philadelphia School District - within $1 million of its goal.

Rendell, Mayor Kenney, and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. are scheduled to announce the gift Monday afternoon at Ludlow Elementary in Kensington.

The money had been held in escrow to secure a line of credit for the host committee, and now that it is winding up operations, the funds have been released.

Individual and corporate donors provided the funds to the committee.

The money is available as a result of the management of Kevin Washo, the committee's executive director, and chief operating officer Lila Rose, whom Rendell called "as good a budget manager as I've run into in all my years of government experience."

There was no doubt, Rendell said: Everyone wanted any available money to go to the Philadelphia School District. Rendell asked Hite for an idea of how best to use the funds, and the superintendent did not hesitate: Pour them into helping the city's youngest children learn to read on time, he said.

Will the classroom libraries make a difference? Just ask Lynne Millard, principal of Kennedy Crossan Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia. Crossan just got the libraries - which are heavy on informational texts often in short supply in city classrooms - this fall.

"It was like Christmas when we got these books," Millard said last week, motioning to a classroom of 19 first graders independently reading books at just their levels. "The kids have a love of reading, a love of learning. Having these books really helps."

When it was time to select her book, Shiyanne Smith, 7, chose Water Changes and eagerly set out to read for the 20 minutes teacher Kim Robinson allotted.

"Water can be liquid, vapor or solid, and you can swim in it," Shiyanne said. "Our books are awesome!"

Robinson, a 21-year teaching veteran, checked in with Shiyanne and her classmates during the independent reading block, making sure each was on task and asking questions about their texts. She said her students, who are spread across a number of reading levels, relish the opportunity to choose their own books.

"We have to meet each kid exactly where they are," Robinson said.

The Right Books campaign is part of a larger initiative to deepen early grades literacy district-wide. The district has committed $20 million over three years, and the Lenfest Foundation and William Penn Foundation have pledged $10 million over the same time.

To date, 93 elementary schools have received Children's Literacy Initiative training - and the leveled libraries - as a result of the campaign. Next summer, the remaining 57 elementary schools will be trained and receive the libraries.

That the committee's remaining money will help reach that goal is a plus for Rendell, he said.

"We were bound and determined to hold a good convention for the Democrats, make it good for the city of Philadelphia, but we also wanted to make it a great experience for the people of Philadelphia," Rendell said. "So much of what we wanted to do was around young people."

kgraham@phillynews.com

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