Superintendent: ‘This is a Revolution. We Will be ‘The Region That Reads’

West Michigan teachers and administrators recently heard the five common practices that lead to success in reading, and many are ready to implement those findings to a whole new level at their own schools.

Dig deeper into data. “Own” every child, in every classroom. Collaborate at a new level. Conversations are centering on these and other topics at Kent City Elementary School, where Principal Pam Thomas and her staff are responding to information from five high-achieving schools gathered by a team of curriculum leaders involved in the Reading Now Network study.

Common Traits Among Schools with High Reading Proficiency

  • Uncompromising Focus on Reading

Everything revolves around reading.

  • Relevant Data Used Deeply

Staff & students live the data.

  • Shared Leadership, Sustained Commitment

Principals define the “What,” teachers define the “How.”

  • Classroom Management Focused on Learning

Engaged students are partners.

  • Collective Responsibility for Every Child’s Success

“We each feel they are all our kids.”

The work, done over eight months, was completed to determine best instructional practices in a collaborative effort to lift third-grade reading proficiency levels up to 80 percent or more in West Michigan.

Following the March RNN symposium where the key findings were unveiled, Thomas led teachers in watching videos and using reflection tools about commonalities among the schools that have high success rates in reading. Her staff became invigorated.

“This was coming from the teachers and real kids in real classrooms talking about what works. I think that is what struck my staff,” Thomas said.

The in-depth videos, with interviews from administrators, teachers and students, and a reflection tool are now available on the Reading Now Network website.

RNN is an effort involving 100 school districts in 13 counties in West Michigan to examine best instructional practices at elementary schools with high-reading success rates in order to implement them region-wide. Schools studied ranged from urban to rural, with varying levels of poverty. They are: Brown Elementary in Byron Center, North Godwin Elementary in Godwin Heights, Lakeshore Elementary in West Ottawa, Coit Creative Arts Academy in Grand Rapids Public Schools and Sunfield Elementary in Lakeview Community Schools.

To conduct the field study, curriculum leaders visited the schools, all of which consistently score high on third-grade reading MEAP tests. Findings revealed the schools had a lot in common.

The Beginning of a Revolution?

Greenville Public Schools Superintendent Pete Haines, a member of the RNN steering committee, said his teachers are assessing how well each Greenville school is implementing the five traits in creating their school improvement plans.

“These findings are already influencing decisions on schedule, materials, methods, and especially professional development needs,” he said.

The collaborative mindset has already changed the spirit of teaching, he said. RNN is providing an invaluable resource, with collaboration possible between 100 districts.

“The Reading Now Network, in its simplest sense, expands the pool of instructional strategies and practices available to our staff by 100 times its present size,” he said. “Rather than looking only within our district and capitalizing on our strengths, we now have 100 other districts, and the best ideas they can share from which to pull. How can that not help every child in the consortium achieve greater results?”

“I’ve never before seen such open sharing of strategies on behalf of children in a broad region. This is a revolution. We will be ‘The Region that Reads.'”

At Kent City, Thomas said her staff celebrated what they are already doing well, ensuring students have a 120 minutes of uninterrupted reading time during the school day. They discussed how to fine-tune other areas.

“One of the things that came out is that we really need to engage in using our data and having more conversations around it,” she said.

“Ultimately we hope to bring this to the desktop of every teacher in every district that participates, so they can easily access and understand where the learning is falling short and which resource will get every student back on track based on that student’s data,”Ron Koehler, Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent
Already, a major step toward putting the data to use has been taken: The State of Michigan has awarded a $751,250 grant to Kent ISD that those committed to raising third-grade reading proficiency say will arm schools with some very powerful tools for doing just that.

The grant will enable the Reading Now Network and Kent ISD to:

  • Create a data-driven computer dashboard “early warning” system that will identify early reading challenges of students, utilizing its existing electronic data warehouse
     
  • Develop a resource library of best practices for teaching methods and helping students who struggle
     
  • Make those resources available through an existing online system called Edify

Using data (test scores) from several sources also connects with “owning each child” in a way that teachers are collectively working to raise achievement, she said.

“Right now we have teachers collaborating, but it took us to the next level of what those conversations should look like.”

She said the Reading Now Network effort can have a positive impact on many schools.

“I think the collaboration between schools sends a message to everyone that we need to share the good news. So often we work in silos… It is a great example of taking down walls and saying, ‘We are in this together.'”

Schools Are Learning From Each Other

Field study members said they are hearing from educators across the state who are putting RNN findings into action. School boards have passed resolutions supporting RNN, and Gov. Rick Snyder’s office has shown interest, requesting a summary of findings.

“It’s prompted a lot of deep thinking about practices,” said Michelle Goodwin, associate superintendent at Montcalm Area ISD.

“Many of our districts said they had gone back and used the reflection tools with their staffs. So they were taking those tools provided and thinking about next steps,” said field study member Laurie Schmitt, assistant superintendent at Allegan Area Educational Service Agency, said she’s heard from many districts using the information.

Wyoming Public Schools Superintendent Tom Reeder, also a member of the RNN steering committee, said the group continues to study how the five schools performed over a period of years and in other content areas.

“The findings were very much in support that their work transcended across years and content areas,” he said. “Our next steps are how to look at additional schools, maybe those that are currently struggling, and change their direction from underachiever to high-achiever.”

CONNECT

Reading Now Network website with videos and tools

Article on Reading Now Network Symposium

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2012. Read Erin's full bio

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