Read On Campaign is focus of Forum

Brent Cooper and Santa Ono were the featured speakers at the Government Forum hosted by the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce at The Grand on November 9.  The READ ON campaign is being supported by the communities in both Northern Kentucky & Cincinnati.

A packed house witnessed the commitment to support this program by Mayor Chuck Scheper, Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls, NKU President Geoff Mearns, NKY Judge-Execs, Mayors and local officials as well as representatives from leading businesses such as Heritage Bank, Toyota, Duke, Messer Construction, PNC Bank and others.  The Education Council, The Strive Partnership, Superintendents from Local School Districts and the Kentucky State Board of Education are committed to reaching the literacy goals that have been set.

Advocate – Cultivate – Participate

Get Involved – the education of our youth is in your hands.


C-Forward’s President, Brent Cooper, was highlighted in this Cincinnati Enquirer Article about the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Read On Campaign! “I am honored to be co-chairing the “Read On!” campaign with the new President of the University of Cincinnati, Santa Ono.” Brent said. “He is a terrific. He brings tremendous excitement and enthusiasm to Education. Through this campaign he is demonstrating that he not only cares about the current students and faculty at U.C., he also cares about the next generation of students that will fuel our regional economy.”

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Some of the best will help kids learn to read

Ultimate goal: Educate, retain young workers

A who’s who list of local business leaders is about to kick off an early childhood literacy campaign that seeks support from every workplace in the region.

The immediate goal of the Nov. 9 Read On! event is to create urgency for making sure that every local third-grader can read at that level.

And the ultimate goal: To educate and retain top young workers for high-paying jobs of the future.

“At the end of the day, I want every business in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to do something for their local schools,” says Brent Cooper, founder and president of Northern Kentucky’s C-Forward, an information technology consulting firm.

“We’re not telling them how to do it, but asking them to engage in some way.”

Cooper is co-chairing the Read On! campaign with Santa Ono, newly named president of the University of Cincinnati.

Executives supporting Read On! include the chairs of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce – Julie Janson, president of Duke Energy in Ohio and Kentucky, and Lytle Thomas, president and CEO of Heritage Bank.

Kay Geiger, local president of PNC Bank; Bob Zapp, president and CEO of the Bank of Kentucky; Kevin Canafax, vice president of public affairs at Fidelity Investments; Mer Grayson, president of Central Bank; and Pete Strange, chairman of Messer Inc., are among other business leaders supporting the campaign.

The Nov. 9 lunchtime event at The Grand in Covington will focus on getting local elected officials to sign a declaration supporting Read On!, which is being led by The Strive Partnership and Northern Kentucky Education Council.

Campaign works across region

It’s a multi-year campaign that spans seven counties and 19 school districts. The campaign’s three areas of emphasis are kindergarten readiness, attendance and summer learning.

The idea is to ensure a pipeline of students who are reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Students who fail to do so are four times more likely to drop out of school, according to a 2011 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In 2011, 29 percent of Cincinnati Public Schools students and 36 percent of Newport Independent Schools students were not proficient in reading by fourth grade, the Enquirer reported in March. That creates an uphill battle for the region to meet one of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s Bold Goals: For 85 percent of youths to graduate from high school by 2020.

“Santa and I are determined to see improved outcomes that align with the overall regional Bold Goals,” Cooper says. “Tougher standards don’t worry us.”

As co-chairs, Cooper and Ono are charged with building community awareness and helping with fundraising efforts for Read On! The business community has a vested interest in a successful campaign, says Polly Lusk Page, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Education Council.

“This is seeding our work force and keeping children in the education pipeline,” Page says. “If you invest in the earlier years – birth through age 9 – and if we think about those investments early, we’re going to get a much larger return on our investment.”

According to a 2010 Institute for a Competitive Workforce study, every $1 spent on early childhood education saves between $2.50 and $17 later on services such as remedial job training and correctional facilities.

Executives asked to advocate

Cooper – who sits on the Northern Kentucky Education Council, Gateway Community & Technical College and Covington Partners boards – made improving relationships between the business community and educators a priority during his just-completed tenure as chair of the Northern Kentucky Chamber.

Thomas is now leveraging that foundation to focus his tenure on work force readiness.

“The recurring theme we hear out there is there are people without jobs, and there are companies looking for skilled labor,” Thomas says. “This is about helping our people become more informed and better students so that they can succeed in the world that we’ll have when they’re ready to come out of school and get a job.”

Cooper wants executives to use their “bully pulpits” to advocate for early literacy. It’s less about contributing money, he says, and more about contributing resources like employees’ time.

C-Forward, for example, encourages its employees to be mentors. The company also partners with the James E. Biggs Early Childhood Education Center.

Heritage Bank is connecting employees with Junior Achievement, a nonprofit organization that fosters work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“If companies can think about giving their employees relief time during the work day to go tutor a child, that is an investment,” Page says. “That exemplifies a culture of contribution.”

I am responsible for business coverage and I write a column about executive leadership. Find me at
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