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Early literacy efforts pay off for elementary school

Improved literacy, stronger workforce

Principal Shawn Veitch speaks about early literacy efforts at Dutton Elementary during the TalentFirst Literacy Leader Award ceremony on March 4

Caledonia — Dutton Elementary third- and fourth-graders gathered with their teachers in the cafeteria on March 4 to watch principal Shawn Veitch accept the Literacy Leader Award.

Dutton was one of five schools from 13 counties in West Michigan recognized by TalentFirst for its exemplary practices and accomplishments in early literacy. 

“This achievement and award mean a lot to me as the leader of the building. It is an opportunity to celebrate the great work of our teachers and the amazing learning achieved by our students,” Veitch said.  

‘We all have something to learn from these schools and their students. When we prepare children to read proficiently by third grade, we are setting the stage for their academic and lifelong success. That’s how we ensure a strong and vibrant future for West Michigan.’

—  Leslie Brown, chairwoman, Metal Flow Corp; member, TalentFirst’s CEO Council

TalentFirst is an alliance of West Michigan CEOs, joined by educators, human resource and workforce leaders, and policymakers. The awards program is sponsored by TalentFirst members Autocam Medical, AMDG Architects, 42 North Partners, Metal Flow Corp., Lorin Industries, MKO Holdings, Key Bank and Meijer.

During the ceremony, Leslie Brown, chair of Metal Flow and a member of TalentFirst’s CEO Council, presented Veitch with a $1,000 check, followed by a certificate from the state of Michigan presented by state Rep. Angela Rigas, R-Caledonia. 

Veitch said the donation will go towards buying more books for Dutton students to enjoy and discover a love for reading. 

“We all have something to learn from these schools and their students,” Brown said. “When we prepare children to read proficiently by third grade, we are setting the stage for their academic and lifelong success. That’s how we ensure a strong and vibrant future for West Michigan.” 

The four other winning schools were Riverview Elementary in Big Rapids, Washington Street Elementary in Otsego, Meadow Ridge Elementary in Rockford and Lincoln Heights Elementary in Greenville. 

Boosting Scores to Build a Better Workforce

Although statewide 2022-23 M-STEP results showed only 41% of third-graders scored proficient in reading, Dutton Elementary’s M-STEP results showed that nearly 67% of third-graders were proficient.

TalentFirst developed the Literacy Leader Awards program following the publication of a dashboard tracking third-grade M-STEP reading scores, cross-referenced to economic status, for nearly every elementary school in the state last year.

TalentFirst President Kevin Stotts said the new initiative focuses on early literacy as the key driver in building a stronger West Michigan workforce. 

TalentFirst’s criteria for rewarding exemplary schools include:
• Higher third-grade M-STEP scores and/or growth, and outperforming peers with similar economic status
• Implementation of the General Education Leadership Network’s Literacy Essentials
• Ongoing professional learning on proven practices aligned with the science of reading
• The appointment of dedicated literacy coaches in each building
• Provision of appropriate curricula and resources with systematic phonic instruction
• The use of formative assessments to influence instruction
• Development of detailed school improvement plans with a focus on early literacy outcomes and district alignment among buildings on literacy strategies

“At a time when Michigan is facing a crisis in early literacy, these schools stand apart,” he said. “By relying on evidence-based teaching methods, they are preparing students for lifelong success …  because a strong West Michigan starts with children knowing how to read.” 

To highlight schools setting a positive example, Stotts said they worked with a trained literacy coach and field instructor to set criteria for recognizing and rewarding well-performing schools. 

“These schools deserve to be celebrated,” he said. “Children must master literacy in early elementary grades if they are to graduate high school ready for college and career.”

Veitch said in his 10 years as principal at Dutton, his staff has worked hard to have high-quality, multi-tiered systems of support for all students to help improve their reading skills.

Dutton Elementary Principal Shawn Veitch accepts a $1,000 donation from TalentFirst, alongside TalentFirst Director of Education Innovation Lisa Hungerford, far left; TalentFirst President Kevin Stotts; Leslie Brown, chair of MetalFlow Corp. and member of TalentFirst’s CEO Council; State Rep. Angela Rigas; and CCS Superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer (courtesy Andy Terzes)

“Our educators have done a ton of work researching the science of reading and utilizing evidence-based literacy strategies and curriculum,” he said. 

Stotts said TalentFirst’s next steps involve meeting with Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon ISD superintendents to set goals for early literacy performance 

“TalentFirst has a goal that 80% of third-graders are proficient in reading,” he said. “It’s not one solution, but we want students to be able to have a plan when they graduate that matches their interests.”

Read more from Caledonia: 
Celebrating their blue ribbon school
Communication device enables students to share thoughts, even trash talking

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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