Districts to join regional reading network

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — School board members for St. Joseph and Lakeshore both voted Monday for their districts to join a regional literacy coalition.

In St. Joseph, Superintendent Ann Cardon gave a brief presentation to board members and explained they would be among several other schools to be a part of the Reading Now Network.

The reading network’s goal is to promote early childhood literacy.

“It all started when the superintendents wanted to get together and do what’s called instructional rounds,” Cardon said. “They send some folks to Harvard to be trained on how to use the instructional rounds in an educational setting.”

By joining the reading network, the districts will be partnering with other West Michigan school districts to implement best practices in reading instruction. The initiative was started by school districts within Region 3, which includes Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa counties.

At Lakeshore, Superintendent Phil Freeman told board members it is not new curriculum and won’t cost any money.

Freeman said it was done in part to prepare for legislation that requires school districts to hold third-graders back if they fall a grade-level or more behind in reading. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the legislation into law earlier this month.

Freeman said the law becomes effective for the 2017-18 school year, starting with kindergarten students. He said possible retention won’t happen until the 2019-20 school year.

Freeman said the school districts in the Reading Now Network studied the “outlier” schools that outperformed other schools that had similar student bodies. He said the study found five Roots of Reading Success, which included that the schools had an uncompromising focus on reading, where everything revolved around reading.

Freeman said the study found that classroom management at these schools focused on learning in which students were partners in their learning.

According to Cardon’s presentation at St. Joseph, the best practices identified by the reading network includes sharing knowledge, resources and professional development.

Some of the findings that several participating schools found helpful were practices Cardon said their school district already implements.

The initiative also uses a “Heart Attack Protocol,” which means every student is given the same amount of intentional focus on their literacy.

“They found teacher time with small groups is especially productive and that goes on everyday in our world,” Cardon said.

Some of the limitations that come with the network is the field study is based on one year of information and only focuses on reading.

According to the network’s field study – which shows where students are expected to fall in line with literacy – two of the three St. Joseph elementary schools were outperforming expectations based on its socioeconomic level of the district.

Brown Elementary was considered to be slightly under the line.

St. Joseph schools join the network as a part of Region 7. Its members include Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties.

Joining the network gives the district a channel to share ideas and promote better funding for literacy programs, Cardon said.

“There’s no magic pill here. It’s about reading and it’s about being intentional,” Cardon said. “Whether it’s sharing data or best practices, we will be opening up our doors for schools that want to participate. (Districts) are going to want to come see what we’re doing in the classrooms, to see what is making the difference.”

St. Joseph’s next school board meeting is at 6 p.m. on Nov. 7 in EP Clarke Elementary School’s library.

At Lakeshore, Assistant Superintendent Julie Powell said Lakeshore students did very well on the spring M-STEP. When comparing the percent of proficient students in grades 3-8 in Lakeshore with other school districts in Berrien County, she said the Lakeshore students scored third highest in English (64 percent) and second highest in math (61 percent). The state average for English was 47 percent and for math was 37 percent.

In addition, Lakeshore’s auditor gave the district a clean audit report.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 11, 2016. Staff writer Louise Wrege contributed to this report.)

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