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Barksdale Reading Institute closes its...

Barksdale Reading Institute closes its doors after more than two decades of early-literacy work in Mississippi

By: Anne Summerhays - June 13, 2022

BRI was established in 2000 as the result of a $100-million commitment by Jim and Sally Barksdale.

CEO of the Barksdale Reading Institute (BRI), Kelly Butler, announced on Sunday that the Institute will close its doors after twenty-two years of early-literacy work in Mississippi.

For more than two decades, BRI has worked with Mississippi’s schools
of education, public schools and pre-k programs, and thousands of dedicated
teachers. The Institute has also played a critical role in the significant improvement in reading scores in the state, a release of the announced closure states.

“In order to equip our children with the reading skills they need to be successful in college, their careers and in citizenship, we need strong, literacy minded leadership in every public school and dedicated, creative, literacy-minded teachers in every classroom,” the Institute’s Theory of Change notes.

BRI was designed to significantly improve Mississippi students’ pre-literacy and reading skills through their mission and programming, which included:

  • Enhancing the quality of early childhood education programs, including Head Start, in-school and private programs through a focus on parent engagement and kindergarten readiness.
  • Expanding teachers’ knowledge of reading instruction through professional development focused on BRI’s Reading Universe program and instructional practices grounded in the science of literacy.
  • Developing and enhance partnership efforts to achieve grade level literacy, especially pre-service teacher reading instruction at Mississippi’s colleges and universities.
  • Strengthening the role of the principal as instructional and literacy leaders in Mississippi.

In 2000, Mississippi students ranked 49th on fourth-grade reading scores as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Nineteen years later in 2019, Mississippi is ranked 26th nationally and is among the top performers in accelerating growth for children in poverty and for children of color.

The Institute was founded in 2000 by Jim and Sally Barksdale.

Photo from Barksdale Reading Institute’s website.

The Barksdales’ $100 million dollar donation established the Barksdale Reading Institute and funded the Mississippi Principal Corps, a program that trains and develops highly-effective school administrators throughout the state.

“Looking at the increased NAEP scores, which I am confident BRI has contributed to, and at the tens of thousands of students whose reading skills have improved significantly, I say that’s a pretty good return on our investment,” Jim Barksdale said recently.

Most of the Institute’s educational assets will live on in BRI’s Reading Universe through its partnership with two nationally recognized organizations – WETA and First Book.

As BRI closes the book next summer on its Mississippi operations, WETA and First Book will launch the initial prototype of BRI’s Reading Universe, which aims to be the premier source of information about teaching, reading, and writing to students in Pre-K through 6th grade.

“Teaching more children to read and write proficiently is the number 1 challenge facing our nation’s schools,” said Kareem Weaver, an expert adviser to Reading Universe and a long-time advocate for literacy and civil rights. “Reading Universe will give every teacher, every school, and every district free, instant access to authoritative, engaging and video-rich information about what it really takes to teach reading well.”

About the Author(s)
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Anne Summerhays

Anne Summerhays is a recent graduate of Millsaps College where she majored in Political Science, with minors in Sociology and American Studies. In 2021, she joined Y’all Politics as a Capitol Correspondent. Prior to making that move, she interned for a congressional office in Washington, D.C. and a multi-state government relations and public affairs firm in Jackson, Mississippi. While at Millsaps, Summerhays received a Legislative Fellowship with the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi where she worked with an active member of the Mississippi Legislature for the length of session. She has quickly established trust in the Capitol as a fair, honest, and hardworking young reporter. Her background in political science helps her cut through the noise to find and explain the truth. Email Anne: