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Building A Better Literacy Plan

Several hundred school district officials from across the country recently converged at Scholastic corporate headquarters in New York City for the annual Superintendent Summit. Over the course of two days, participants listened to a variety of school leaders and education experts and shared best practices on implementing and maintaining effective literacy enhancement strategies. The following is a peek at some selected session highlights.

January 2008
Some of our superintendents<br />
Some of our superintendents

Dr. Clayton Wilcox,
Pinellas County Schools, Florida

The big push for us in Pinellas County is to broaden the definition of literacy. We want to create a compelling sense of urgency around helping students read, write, think, view, and speak better—with all of these skills needing to work in various combinations simultaneously.

Children today are multitasking machines, with little time for convention or making corrections. We like to think our plan is broader and richer because we realize kids communicate with more than a quill and a piece of parchment. We provide daily opportunities for them to read, write, and speak in multiple venues. Depending on the media they’re interacting with, they require different literacy skills—or at least skills that are somewhat different from the ones most of us have traditionally used. The good news is that in a district like Pinellas, our instructional staff is adaptable to change. Teachers and administrators realized we had become a little complacent. Already within six months, we’re starting to see pretty substantial gains in reading of kids.

Warren Jacobson,
Glendale Union High School District, Arizona

We made a conscious decision as a school district in 2003 to search for a reading intervention program. We at first focused on students with the most severe needs. Now we include English language learners, special needs populations, and students at or below the 40th percentile rank. In evaluating our process, we identified several critical decisions that promoted the effective and efficient implementation of our program. These include:

  • Making sure all teachers and paraprofessionals understand that reading intervention is a top priority. We made sure everyone was informed during a “back-to-school celebration” before the new academic year began.
  • Designating an associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction to work with each school principal and oversee proper implementation. We selected a district-level curriculum coordinator to work with teachers to ensure a successful training program and a prescribed implementation process.
  • Earmarking funds to provide each teacher with 12 days of staff development training prior to the start
    of the school year.
  • Having school principals “hand-pick” instructors for the new classes.
  • Placing a full-time instructional aide (paraprofessional) in each of the program classrooms to assist the teacher and students. Don’t forget to offer the aides training as well.

Walter Gibson,
Los Lunas Schools, New Mexico

Three years ago, we had a situation where students’ literacy was far below grade level. And we faced a number of challenges. We had no formal pre-school program, no written K–6 literacy curriculum, an unfocused professional development program, and no intervention program for struggling readers. The results included gaps in academic knowledge and skills among large numbers of students; failure to retain students through graduation; and flat or declining state and national assessment scores.
We began with honest research, gathering data to assess the current state of our district. The district faced two problems: building a consistent, research-based literary curriculum focused on early literacy, while also supporting students in grades 4–12 who were reading two or more grades below standard.

On the first issue, we worked to make sure our students in grades
K–2 were achieving at a higher level—the earlier the intervention the better.
Now with the program in action, some pupils are making one-and-a-half or even two times the gain that teachers get in the regular curriculum. Most of all, we found that teachers (and principals) matter more than anything else. Good teaching overshadows all other factors.

Dr. Herman Brister
East Baton Rouge Public Schools, Louisiana

Every school district being pushed to improve—and show me one that isn’t—must always consider reorganization whether it wants to or not. Our schools, like many across Louisiana, were confronted with a growing population of over-age students in both elementary and middle school. To adapt, we followed these steps to implementing a successful literacy program.

  • Adopt a win-win approach. All stakeholders must have a sense of ownership.
  • Use language that is simple and accessible. This makes the program understandable to those outside the education profession.
  • Make sure your instructional and technical people are involved in
    the initial planning.
  • Ensure the district is committed to providing the needed technical infrastructure (hardware and staff).
  • Identify any leaders who will embrace innovation. Early wins are important.
  • Make sure regularly scheduled monitoring is a part of the implementation process.

The program is now implemented district-wide at 44 elementary, middle, and high schools. The average lexile gain for 2007 was 140, compared to 188 in 2006. Also during that time, 265 students’ gains grew over the course of two years (150 points) and 263 students’ lexiles grew by more than 200.

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