Our school is one of just 12 “Science of Reading Spotlight Schools” in Alabama this year, but getting here wasn’t easy. Rewind the clock back to the fall of 2021 and just 15 percent of our kindergarten students were proficient in reading. A “full support school” since 2018, we were dealing with some major challenges. I stepped in as principal in 2020, and began looking for ways to solve the issues and get things on the right track.
I learned about Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling Suite (LETRS) from my mentor principal at the state department, which works with schools like Central Elementary to establish the specific benchmarks that each Alabama school must reach. It turned out that the professional learning platform was one of the offerings that provides educators with the deep knowledge required to be literacy and language experts in the science of reading which in turn will help teachers to address students’ learning gaps in literacy.
From my perspective, being a full support school described us, but did not define Central Elementary School, so I got all faculty and staff on board with our new literacy professional learning solution.
After completing the program’s administrative component, I jumped into the teacher’s portion along with my staff. Now, our entire staff of 27 is working through the program.
Here are the top five benefits we’ve seen so far:
- Levels the playing field. This type of teacher training is so critically important right now because the research shows that when the pandemic hit, a lot of our kids suffered learning losses. I saw an opportunity for the Lexia LETRS professional learning program to bring us up to speed, to level the playing field. I played basketball in high school and college, and I’m always looking forward. I have that same mentality as a leader. I saw this as an opportunity for us to just take it to the next level with my faculty and staff also onboard with the idea.
- Get results. We made gains in year one. In 2021, 15 percent of kindergarteners were proficient, and our teachers grew that number to around 75 percent. Now, 75 percent of our kindergarten students who are going into first grade—despite COVID and learning loss—are entering first grade proficiently. The other 25 percent attended summer school and received the remediation, resources, and support they need to get to where they should be.
- Supports tier one readers. A literacy professional learning solution also helps bring teachers to focus on Tier 1 readers who need the most support. The professional learning program we use gives us the resources we need to get the students ready to do the work. I especially like the platform’s expansive video library and science of reading approach.
- Gives teachers flexibility. I worked with my reading coach and a representative from our professional learning solution provider to schedule several meetings and training sessions. And on the days that specific teachers had training, they could either come to the school or do the virtual training from home. Once the initial four teachers completed the program—a process handled by grade level—they served as a support team for other teachers.
- Goes beyond reading. Our students are also making gains in math, having increased both kindergarten and second grade proficiency in that subject by over 51 percent. Every grade level made gains for the last two years, and we’re all excited about year three.
To other school leaders that want to help level the playing field for students on the reading front, I’d say just jump in 100 percent and do it yourself first. This is important because if you want your teachers to get onboard and use it, it starts with the school’s leaders. From there, everything else will fall into place.
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