For Marshalltown, the second time is a charm. After narrowly missing an All-America City designation in 2011, local city officials decided to give it another go. And this time it worked.
Earlier this year, the National Civic League named Marshalltown one of 14 cities to earn the title All-America City. Each year, the National Civic League recognizes cities that aim to address local challenges through innovation, inclusiveness, civic engagement and cross sector collaboration.
Randy Wetmore, city administrator, said when he was in Denver with other city and civic leaders to accept the award, several people told him other communities across the U.S. do not partner with local agencies to accomplish meaningful efforts to the degree to which Marshalltown does.
Third grade reading initiative supports carry a banner touting the All-America City crest on it during the Oktemberfest parade in September. After several months of planning, efforts for Spread the Words — Read by Third kick off in January.
Marshalltown's Spread the Words - Read by 3rd program landed Marshalltown the award. The program aims to get 90 percent of third graders up to national standards for reading proficiency by 2016 when Marshalltown's All-America City distinction expires. Only about 67 percent of third graders tested reading proficient in 2012.
Wetmore said those in charge of putting together the application hit the ground running, something he said likely gave Marshalltown a leg-up in being named.
"This year, those that wrote the application had a wealth of information that was already being tracked," he said.
The program's ability to be replicated is one of its strengths, he added. Having good reading skills is a basic essential necessary for business, civic and social involvement.
Arlene McAtee, who was instrumental in developing the third grade reading initiative that earned Marshalltown the All-America designation, said efforts will get underway Jan. 16. Since July, committees in the program's three target areas have been busy laying the groundwork to ensure the program runs smoothly.
Spread the Words - Read by 3rd's three focus areas are summer learning loss, raising attendance and school readiness.
Recognition of those children who have good attendance aims to provide incentives for children to increase their attendance. To address summer learning loss, that committee aims to increase the availability of books to children. In March, those who do home visits and early education will begin training on how to educate parents on the importance of literacy, informing them of what is expected of their child by time they enter kindergarten.
While these efforts might seem herculean when taken together, McAtee said the biggest challenges are staying focused, working diligently and engaging families.
"It will be a multi-year effort. You can't solve these problems in a year," she said. "It's not something we do to people, it's something we do with people."
And there are other upsides to the program.
Tom Deimerly, president of Marshall Economic Development Impact Committee, said the All-America City distinction makes Marshalltown attractive to businesses.
Being able to demonstrate higher reading levels with test scores shows an educated populous, which in turn ensures businesses will be able to find the caliber of workers they need, Deimerly said.
"They are looking for a community that is looking to re-invest in themselves," he said.