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Visionary focus on literacy

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On Sunday, the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction shattered previous records by raising $1.4 million, including a staggering $691,250 for the “Fund the Future” campaign to improve childhood literacy. That money, more than twice the fund-a-need lot raised last year, will be divided among three county nonprofits working to raise reading levels and to lower the literacy gap that currently leaves 54 percent of county third graders reading below grade level. In the Sonoma Valley, among Enlish-language learners that figure is a daunting 88 percent.

It’s a bold campaign that will continue at least through 2018, by which time, it is hoped, third-grade literacy will reach 90 percent.

That may be a wildly ambitious goal, but that’s what the problem requires and we’re impressed by the vision of the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance, in partnership with the Sonoma County Vintners, to invest a lion’s share of the auction proceeds in early childhood education.

That targeted strategy mirrors the efforts of the Todd Trust Team which spent more than a year studying the needs of people in the Sonoma Valley before investing funds from the $8.5 million Roland and Hazel Todd Trust. These examples of research-based, targeted giving inspire us to wonder what would happen if a similar effort was made to identify and prioritize the key economic, educational, recreational, social, cultural and environmental needs of the entire Valley. One result could be a more coordinated, collaborative and efficient agenda among numerous local nonprofits that frequently find themselves competing for the same donor dollars.

Such a strategy could identify and prioritize a broad range of needs and issues, from high school graduation rates, gangs, and job training to the plans for a community swimming pool, more dog parks, tennis courts and hiking trails.

Some logical collaborations already exist and others could be broadened. The Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, the Mentoring Alliance and the Teen Center point the direction for further collaborative initiatives.

A wide range of stakeholders could similarly collaborate on an effort to explore future scenarios for the Sonoma Developmental Center and its highest and best uses, including option planning for the SDC reservoir, a de facto regional park and recreational resource of incalculable value already widely, albeit illegally, used for swimming and fishing.

Other Valley topics worthy of detailed analysis and priority planning could include an inventory of broken, crumbling streets in the Springs with a financial analysis of the cost for needed repairs; the benefits and possibilities of a true public art program with a commitment to raise public and private dollars to implement it; re-examination of Valley traffic flow to explore alternatives to routing Highway 12 through the Plaza.

There is, to be sure, a stone soup quality to such a series of exercises, not so much reinventing any wheel as deciding on priorities, developing plans of action and making community-wide commitments.

So hats off to the vintners and growers for their visionary focus on literacy. It’s a good start and a good model for other good starts all across the Valley.