Robbie Short

On Tuesday, Mayor Toni Harp and New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries announced the membership for the Blue Ribbon Commission on Reading — a 39-member task force charged with working to improve reading outcomes for New Haven Public School students.

The Blue Ribbon Commission is one of the initiatives Harp laid out in her 10-point education plan at an October Board of Education meeting, shortly after her appointment as BOE president. The all-volunteer commission — comprised of 39 Elm City teachers, professors, librarians, psychologists and other community members — will work with the BOE to identify and resolve issues in the current reading curriculum. The commission aims to improve literacy in all Elm City schools. According to 2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment results, a standardized test aligned with the Common Core curriculum, 71 percent of New Haven students in grades three through eight and grade 11 are not reading at grade level.

“In New Haven we’re zeroing in on reading because it’s the very foundation of learning — there is no understating the importance of this: learning to read is the gateway to learning,” Harp said at the Tuesday press conference. “This Blue Ribbon Commission will help identify and respond to the gaps in curriculum, instruction and assessment within New Haven Public Schools and identify best practices to strengthen district-wide reading K-12.”

The commission will be divided into six subcommittees to improve literacy at all grade levels. The committees will focus on early childhood education, grade-level reading, special education, adult reading, English-as-a-second-language learners and involvement of parents and community. Next year, the commission will issue a comprehensive report outlining improvements that should be made to the city’s reading curriculum. But, Harries said, successful practices observed before the release of the official report may be implemented on a rolling basis.

Harp said the commission will look beyond the schools and reach out to families in the Greater New Haven community in order to foster a supportive learning environment for NHPS students.

“The commission will also support family and community engagement with a goal of improving reading outcomes for students,” Harp added.

The co-chairs of the commission will be Wendy Samberg, director of instructional design at Gateway Community College, and Jerry Poole, former program director for Greater New Haven Opportunity Industrialization Center — a nonprofit that provides employment and training programs to low-income communities.

Westville Alder Richard Furlow, who currently sits on the Board of Alders’ Education Committee, will serve as the aldermanic representative on the commission. Furlow said he has done extensive work with students in Bridgeport, where 23.8 percent of students in grades three through eight and grade 11 are reading at grade level, according to 2015 SBAC scores. He said he was surprised to discover that Bridgeport high school students had difficulties reading basic literature.

“How can you get a job if you can’t read?” Furlow said.

The Blue Ribbon Commission will hold a preliminary meeting Monday evening at City Hall.