AUSTIN, Texas—Robin Gilchrist, an award-winning Texas Education Agency executive who managed major statewide initiatives in reading, K-12 student success and early childhood learning, has been named as the new director of the Texas Family Literacy Center in UT Austin’s College of Education.
“Because we want our family literacy program to become a national model for strengthening literacy services, it became essential to attract the best possible leadership personality to work with literacy educators throughout Texas and the nation,” said Dr. Manuel J. Justiz, dean of the College of Education.
“We’re fortunate to have Robin Gilchrist in this influential role,” added Justiz, “because family literacy helps both parents and children to succeed in education. Literate parents have the greatest influence on their child’s development, becoming critically important for Texas school reform efforts.”
The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS), which began in 1993 by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that nearly half of all Americans have limited literacy skills, but at least 40 million — or 20 percent of the U.S. adult population — score at the lowest of five literacy levels.
Level one or two literacy classifications generally include immigrants, particularly those learning to speak English; people over the age of 65; individuals with physical, mental or health conditions; prison populations; and those living in poverty. Significantly, adults whose parents complete more years of schooling demonstrate higher literacy skills than those whose parents had a limited or non-existent education.
The Texas Family Literacy Center began in April, 1999, with a startup grant from The Tapestry Foundation of Austin — forging links with the state’s providers in Even Start, Migrant Education, Adult Education, Head Start and the First Lady’s Family Literacy Initiative for Texas programs.
“Our mission focuses on strengthening programs and enhancing the knowledge, skills, instructional practices and resources available to family literacy educators throughout Texas, while also responding to the Governor’s and First Lady’s reading and literacy initiatives,” said Justiz.
“Robin Gilchrist has been a great leader of the Governor’s Reading Initiative throughout Texas,” said Margaret LaMontagne, the education adviser to Gov. George W. Bush. “The fact that UT’s College of Education has lured her away from the Texas Education Agency is wonderful evidence of the college’s continuing commitment to family literacy for both parents and children in Texas.”
Gov. Bush had set a statewide goal early in his administration that all students would be reading on level or above by the third grade and remain on level thereafter.
Bruce Esterline, vice president for grants at The Meadows Foundation of Dallas, specifically noted Gilchrist’s track record in leveraging public-private partnerships to support literacy and reading efforts.
“In her work on the Texas Reading Initiative, I saw Robin become a tremendous resource to foundations like ours, which are trying to improve literacy rates among Texas school children,” he said. “With her help, we were able to combine private and public dollars to create a statewide system that trains teachers how to teach young children to read.”
Beth Ann Bryan, the program director of First Lady Laura Bush’s Family Literacy Initiative for Texas, which awarded more than $200,000 to 20 independent literacy programs statewide last year, explained that family literacy would clearly benefit from Gilchrist’s background.
“The beauty of having Robin as the new director of the college’s Texas Family Literacy Center is that she really understands how to get a major initiative moving in Texas, and critically important issues such as family literacy and reading will have their significance increased as a result,” Bryan said.
Gilchrist was awarded the 2000 Literacy Award by the Texas State Reading Association at their annual conference last March, and had previously received the Special Advocate Award by the Self Help for Hard of Hearing People group and a Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Chamber of Commerce.
A 1990 graduate of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, Gilchrist joined the office of Speaker Gibson D. “Gib” Lewis four years’ earlier as a special assistant for research and policy development.
The Texas Family Literacy Center is housed within the College of Education’s nationally recognized Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts, which is directed by Dr. Sharon Vaughn, who holds the Mollie Villeret Davis Professorship in Learning Disabilities.