Roaring Fork School District lands $1.1 million Early Literacy Grant
Post Independent Intern
The Roaring Fork School District will boost its literacy program with the start of the 2013-2014 academic year after receiving a $1.1 million Early Literacy Grant from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) earlier this month.
The funding is targeted at kindergarten through third-grade literacy as part of the Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act, also known as the READ Act, which will replace the Colorado Basic Literacy Act on July 1.
According to the CDE, “The READ Act differs from the Colorado Basic Literacy Act, a previous law, by focusing on students identified as having a significant reading deficiency.”
The Early Literacy Grant is a component of the READ Act, offering competitive funding opportunities for districts and schools across the state.
Tracy Handy, the RFSD Literacy Coordinator, completed the application process for the district.
“We considered hiring a professional grant writer, but it was so specific to literacy and education that an educator needed to write it,” said Handy, who has more than 20 years of teaching experience, including remedial reading instruction. “It would have been very difficult for an outsider.”
Handy said the grant funds will be used to improve K-3 literacy rates in the district, since third grade is an essential milestone on the path to literacy.
“If a child is not reading at grade level by the time they reach third grade, the chances of them ever reading at grade level are seriously decreased,” Handy explained. “The best bang for our buck is to focus on that early literacy.”
As mandated by the READ Act, districts across Colorado were required to compile student literacy rates this spring, reporting the number of children with reading deficiencies in each grade. Later this year, the CDE will allocate per-pupil funding based on these numbers to aid in improving literacy.
In the Roaring Fork School District, roughly 33 percent of K-3 students demonstrated literacy deficiencies, including approximately 43 percent of third-graders. According to Handy, it was time for a change.
“There’s nothing more important than a child learning to read. Everything else is secondary,” Handy said. “What’s important about getting a hand on early literacy is that the trickle-down effect will be huge. The district has a large achievement gap, and this should really tighten that up and help a lot of the kids.”
Specifically, the grant will fund salaries and benefits for four literacy coaches, to be distributed between Basalt Elementary, Crystal River Elementary, Sopris Elementary and Glenwood Springs Elementary. These coaches will work with teachers to administer literacy assessments and model reading lessons, in addition to analyzing and reporting student literacy data.
“We want to ensure that every classroom is characterized by high-quality instruction,” said Diana Sirko, RFSD superintendent. “The literacy coaches will ensure a common set of effective practices, and they’ll be someone to go to with questions.”
The literacy push also includes implementation of a new, scientifically based literacy assessment software, DIBELS Next, and use of a new reading intervention and diagnostics program known as Burst.
“We’re really moving to state-of-the-art early literacy assessments,” Handy said. “It can be specific enough to tell you that these four students don’t know the letter ‘z,’ and then you can provide specific materials for that. The literacy coaches will be trained on the system this summer, and then they’ll train the other teachers in the fall.”
Funds from the grant, which are to be distributed over a three-year period, will also be used to enhance professional development of literacy coaches, intervention teachers and classroom teachers from a professional literacy consulting firm.
Beginning this fall, the READ Act will require Colorado school districts “to report specific student, school and district level data to the Colorado Department of Education about the number of students identified with significant reading deficiencies and their progress,” according to the CDE.
“We will need to do all these activities eventually, so what the grant does is allow us to complete them more efficiently and more effectively,” Sirko said. “Tracy’s efforts have allowed us to proceed in a more coordinated effort across the district.”
Adopting new curricula
In addition to the K-3 literacy push, the Roaring Fork School District will also be adopting two new English Language Arts curricula with the start of the 2013-2014 academic year, utilizing mill levy funds.
Benchmark Literacy will be implemented from kindergarten to fifth grade, employing “a research-based, balanced approach that incorporates 50 percent nonfiction reading,” according to Handy.
In an effort to prepare students for Advanced Placement language and literature classes in high school, SpringBoard, the official pre-AP program from College Board, will be applied in sixth- through 12th-grade classrooms.
“The district hasn’t had new language arts materials for 12 years, so people are excited for these curricula,” Handy said. “It’s all brand new literacy materials. Between the READ Act, the grant and these curricula, the district is in a great place to prepare kids for college readiness.”
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