Wednesday, March 20, 2019. Fair and mild, sunny day with lots of clouds all around in New York yesterday, Temps in the mid-40s, not warm but Spring is only a day away, at least on the books.
Meanwhile, last Wednesday night at Cipriani Wall Street, Literacy Partners held their annual black tie, fund-raising Evening of Readings Gala. Which you may recall if you read the NYSD or went to the dinner. In my Diary on the evening I said (the truth), I didn’t know the history of the organization, and because I came to it through Liz Smith and Parker Ladd and Arnold Scaasi, I had assumed they started it. That was a false assumption. The real story is even better. I learned it yesterday from Liz’s executive assistant Mary Jo McDonough, thankfully.
The Literacy Partners New York City chapter began in 1975 by Ruth Colvin as Literacy Volunteers with $500 in Federal funding. That doesn’t sound like much but in today’s dollars it would be like $5000. That’s a decent (if not grand) start for a good idea. Its objective: to offer free literacy programs to adults and families.
Four years later, Liz became involved in 1979 because of her NBC cohort Carol Jenkins. Carol had been involved with Literacy Volunteers at the time, and they were in desperate need of funds and about to go under if they didn’t get them. Carol wisely asked Liz if she could get her friend Lena Horne to participate in their latest fundraiser.
Liz asked Lena, but Lena wasn’t available on that date. Regretting that she hadn’t succeeded in helping, Liz attended a Literacy Volunteers meeting to get a good look at what they did, and “got hooked.” The first fundraiser Liz helped with raised $10,000. It saved Literacy Volunteers from “sinking.” With each passing year, the fundraisers got bigger and bigger.
In 1983, Liz had her friend Diane Judge (who was press rep for the Broadway show “Dreamgirls” at the time) ask the show’s creator Michael Bennett, the man who created “A Chorus Line, to direct a special show as a fundraiser for Literacy Volunteers that year. And indeed he did!
They did “Broadway Salutes Liz Smith” with a star-studded cast. In the mid-80s, Parker Ladd and Arnold Scaasi also got involved. In 1995, Literacy Volunteers officially became Literacy Partners. That’s when I first met it.
I interviewed Arnold and Parker about their participation. They both were very excited about the results of their work with the organization. Arnold told me a good story about a man who thought he was about to woo a woman, sitting close together on the sofa in her apartment one night, when she suggested they play Scrabble. At that point he had to confess that he could neither read nor write. That was the end of that: no Scrabble (and no wooing). Shortly thereafter the lady lost interest in him. His loss, however, spurred him to join Literacy Partners classes, and turned his life around.
Another story was about the UPS worker who took the mail home at night so that his brother could help him sort it. He always wore bandages on his hands, pretending that he had burned them, so that he never had to fill out forms in public. Then there was the bike messenger who couldn’t read street signs, and memorized the city visually. Parker even had a story about the CEO of a large company who could not read menus and only ever ordered the spoken specials.
From then on, every year, the organization grew as well as its annual Readings dinner got more star-studded (thanks to Miz Liz and the Boys), raising millions to finance teaching thousands of people to read. Thousands of people who gained a new life on their own witht their own efforts and self-respect. That in itself cures thousands of diseases for generations to come.
The effort is part of a larger movement created by thinking, ambitious people. Teaching Matters, a New York City-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing teacher effectiveness, celebrated its 25th Anniversary at the Harold Pratt House on 68th and Park earlier this month. Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan was the presenting speaker. Her remarks were entitled Why Teachers Matter.
Her Majesty congratulated Teaching Matters on [its] … “25 inspiring years of spreading the widening waves of education to so many dedicated teachers and deserving children …. It has been my delight to learn more about Teaching Matters and the goals we share. When we provide teachers with the tools, training and support to make a difference to children in some of the most disadvantaged situations…we give them, their families and communities hope for the future, and equip them to turn that hope into reality.”
Lynette Guastaferro, CEO; Olga Votis, Chairman of the Board; and Tom Edelman, a long-time supporter of Teaching Matters also spoke.
Teaching Matters was the creation of the extraordinary vision, passion and foresight of the late Elizabeth Rohatyn who founded Teaching Matters in 1994. Her daughter Nina Griscom has continued to work for her mother’s legacy.
Mrs. Rohatyn promoted equalizing the playing field for New York City’s public school children by ensuring that they had the best prepared teachers possible. Her devotion to teachers and students served as an unshakable foundation, enabling the rapid growth and success of Teaching Matters.
At first, with ten professional developers, Teaching Matters achieved its mission through hands-on individualized teacher training in just 25 schools. Now they partner with educational leadership and teams of teachers across schools, districts, and even states to ensure that as many children as possible experience excellent teaching each and every year.
It is this very special partnership that makes the work sustainable in the long-term. Promoting lasting changes to teacher quality, Teaching Matters is now at the forefront of professional learning for teachers in the United States, and excited about what the future holds for the next 25 years!
From states and districts to the classroom, Teaching Matters partners with public schools to help teacher and school leaders develop the skills they need to teach well, lead their peers and drive school-wide improvement. They envision a nation where every student has equitable access to excellent teaching, no matter their zip code and strives to close the opportunity gap of a radically unequal education system for underserved children.
Over the course of 20 years, Teaching Matters has offered year-round, in-depth programming to approximately 1,000 schools, 30,000 teachers and 500,000 students. For more information, visit teachingmatters.org.
Gonzalo Marroquin/PMC (Teaching Matters)