Seven-year-old Xavier Beebe didn't know a lot about the governor before he visited Xavier's school for a news conference Tuesday.
But Xavier knew all about reading.
"It's fun to have people read to you," the second-grader said after listening to the state's highest elected official read aloud a picture book about a late-blooming tiger.
Gov. Gary Herbert joined business leaders at North Salt Lake's Foxboro Elementary for a news conference on Tuesday to highlight a new project aimed at putting 20,200 volunteers into Utah classrooms by the year 2020.
"Our educators both in public and higher education have learned to do more with less, but there comes a point that the business community really, I think, needs to step up and become a better partner," said businessman Mark Bouchard, chair of Prosperity 2020, the Utah business-led movement to improve education that's behind the effort. "We're the benefactor of all their hard work."
Utah schools already have a number of parent and other volunteers. But the idea behind this new program, called Business Promise, is to leverage the power of the business community to help Utah meet a goal of having two-thirds of adults possess postsecondary degrees or certificates by the year 2020. The group also hopes to see 90 percent of elementary students proficient in math and reading.
Herbert said volunteers are a way to improve education in Utah, which has limited funding due in part to the state's large families, high birthrate and large amounts of publicly-owned land.
"Some of it's about putting more money into it, more resources and teachers and technology, but also it's encouraging more volunteerism," Herbert said of improving education. "We have larger classrooms sizes, and a way we can mitigate [that] is getting more people to volunteer."
Part of the way Prosperity 2020 hopes to hook business volunteers up with schools is through a new online portal at Prosperity2020.com. The portal, developed at Salt Lake Community College with direction from Herbert and his Education Excellence Commission, will allow businesses to choose the opportunities that best fit everyone's needs.
Susan Andrews, an instructional coach at Foxboro, said business volunteers could make a major difference. She said Foxboro already has parent volunteers, but many of them are young moms with other children to care for and other commitments.
"This would just be huge for us to be able to have several businesses that we could rely upon to come and help us," Andrews said. "We have a lot of support but we need a lot more."
How to help
A new online portal at Prosperity2020.com helps businesses choose opportunities to help schools, from volunteering to making donations to providing internships for college students.