William Ruane knew a thing or two about investing. A $10,000 initial investment in the Sequoia Fund that he co-founded in 1970 would be worth more than $4 million today. Under his cooperative management, the Sequoia Fund became one of the most consistently high-performing investment funds on Wall Street. But in terms of enduring investment value, perhaps Mr. Ruane’s largest community-development venture was the Carmel Hill Fund, a private foundation he established in 1986 to support social service, mental health, and education initiatives.
Carmel Hill’s first undertaking was the revitalization of a destitute block on 118th Street in New York City. The project included supporting, renovating, and providing scholarships to the St. Paul School, a nearby Catholic elementary school where educators originally implemented Renaissance Accelerated Reader® and Renaissance Accelerated Math®. After just one year of using the Renaissance practice and assessment solutions, eighth-grade students’ math scores on state testing quadrupled, and over a three-year period, school reading levels doubled.
Dr. Fanon Howell serves as director of the Carmel Hill Fund Education Program, the entity formed to replicate that early success. “Today, we provide both the Renaissance solutions as well as the consultative support that partner schools need to achieve strong progress towards literacy proficiency. Mr. Ruane’s investment, which began as an effort to improve youth education in a single city block in East Harlem, now benefits more than 50,000 students in 125 schools throughout New York City and beyond.”
The challenge: Motivate students to read
The Carmel Hill Fund’s early work with the St. Paul School included major renovations to the school’s gymnasium, science lab, and library. But even with updated facilities and technology, educators still struggled to motivate students, many of whom had come to St. Paul School already behind in their reading abilities. Concurring that reading skills have a direct impact on overall academic performance, the Carmel Hill team worked with St. Paul School’s principal to identify a reading program that would help educators engage students.
In 2001, the team selected Accelerated Reader, citing its effectiveness in motivating students via personalized goals and independent selection of leveled books, providing teachers with reliable data to track comprehension and progress, and offering a suite of reports and other tools to help involve parents in the learning process.
Today, the Carmel Hill Fund Education Program provides Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360® and other Renaissance solutions, including Renaissance Star Assessments®, to partner schools in New York, Colorado, and Louisiana.
The results: Voracious readers, increased literacy proficiency, and high returns
With the implementation of Accelerated Reader at St. Paul School, teachers reported dramatic literacy improvements. In just two years, overall scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills improved by 70 percent, boosting the school’s ranking from near the bottom quartile to eight percent above the national median. Parents touted the reading program as a primary reason for selecting St. Paul School, relating stories of their children reading hundreds of books and “even the newspaper!” Animated students shared the fun of Accelerated Reader quizzes, and Mr. Ruane noted the remarkable evolution from hundreds of disinterested students to 250 “voracious readers.”
Always on the path to proficiency
Dr. Howell also emphasizes the functionality of Star Assessments, including alignment with New York Common Core standards, user-friendly data, reliability, and easy-to-read parent reports that offer performance clarity and provide the objective data essential for productive parent-teacher conversations. “Carmel Hill’s original research indicated that Renaissance was the premiere solution in merging literacy development and technology,” he comments. “Today, more than fifteen years later, our experience in the classroom bears that out. In my estimation, the widespread commitment by Carmel Hill to Renaissance is due to the success each of the individual schools continues to have, as evidenced by continued growth on Star Assessments. Each year any of our member schools can choose to opt out of the Renaissance solutions, but they never do. In fact, the schools typically request broader implementation, as well as additional solutions.”
Carmel Hill’s program now serves a broad spectrum of K–12 schools, including public, private, charter, independent, underperforming, high performing, urban, and rural. Dr. Howell continues, “Our goal in every case is to increase literary proficiency by fostering the love of reading in children and by providing educators the assessment and intervention means to track and improve their students’ progress. Each of our implementation specialists works with a cohort of eight to ten schools to implement the solutions with fidelity, ensure best practices, train teachers, and refine programs to derive maximum value from Renaissance solutions. We have a very aggressive proficiency model and work with schools to make sure their Renaissance solutions are impactful in moving students to literacy proficiency and beyond.”
Reading, reading, reading
Carmel Hill annually sponsors students for the Summer Institute for the Gifted, a program of the National Society for the Gifted and Talented. Recommended by their schools and scoring in the 95th percentile or higher on Renaissance Star Reading® assessments, students take advanced classes on the campuses of Bryn Mawr College, Princeton University, or Yale University. The Fund also provides library services—from facility design to books and technology—and an array of other consultative and reconstruction services.
Dr. Howell came to Carmel Hill from the New York Department of Education where he managed the original 25-school pilot implementation of Renaissance solutions in upper Manhattan. While his focus today inclines to program development and strategy, Dr. Howell maintains a personal involvement with partner schools. “I still support a cohort so that I can stay close to the technology, as well as educator challenges.”
Dr. Howell explains that each Carmel Hill initiative pays homage to its founder. “Every day we strive to carry out our benefactor’s vision. Like Mr. Ruane, we understand that two of the top influences on student learning are repeated reading and small group instruction—and that’s what we’re facilitating in order to reach the greater outcomes of literacy proficiency.”
Mr. Ruane’s investment in the Carmel Hill Fund delivers far-reaching and lasting impact in the form of continuous student growth. Dr. Howell says that such an outcome requires commitment—to helping educators hone professional practices, to partnering with schools to develop effective programs that “don’t wash away with the sand,” and to providing the technology and support they need to ensure that every one of their 50,000 students progresses towards proficiency. “The Carmel Hill Fund Education Program distinctively operates at the intersection of the philanthropic, non-profit, private, and educational sectors. Our objective is to bring together the expertise and resources needed to help children develop the literacy skills that are foundational for successfully maneuvering through and contributing to society, and to cultivating their own unique selves.”