Struggling readers in the Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center school districts will get a new shot at success, thanks to $6 million in grants recently announced by the McKnight Foundation.

The grants, about $3 million for each district, will fund teacher training, individualized reading plans and new learning models for preschool through third grade. They will be based on best practices in the field, and monitored by the Urban Education Institute based at the University of Chicago.

"We really want to show evidence of what it takes in the classroom to achieve [appropriate] reading level by grade three,'' said Kate Wolford, McKnight's president. "That's the transition point between learning to read, and reading to learn.''

The intensive new reading strategies soon will roll out at Andersen and Jefferson Schools in Minneapolis, and at Earle Brown Elementary School in Brooklyn Center.

The two school districts had been invited to apply for planning grants last year, said Wolford. The vetting process was rigorous, including comprehensive written proposals, extensive site visits and in-depth interviews with district leadership and the school principals.

The goal is to build a literacy model, based on classroom research, that can be replicated at other schools around the state to help struggling readers, said Wolford. That, ultimately, will help close the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

The grants are the latest McKnight investment to improve the academic success of Minnesota's youngest children. From 1999 to 2010, the foundation spent nearly $50 million supporting early childhood and kindergarten readiness. Three years ago it announced it would focus on elementary-age children.

The latest grants will bridge those two age groups. They call for transferring information about a child's preschool performance to his kindergarten teacher and beyond, Wolford said.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511