'We Are in This Together'
Reading Now Network Spreads to New Regionby Erin Albanese
A buzz spreading throughout southwest Michigan is extending to seven more counties, boosting students' ability to read by bringing books and resources into schools.
For the past four years, Reading Now Network has involved 13 counties in Region 3, including Kent, Ottawa, Barry and Muskegon, with 100 districts working together to increase third-grade proficiency to 80 percent.
Now Region 7, which includes Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph, VanBuren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun and Branch counties, has signed on to the effort.
Common Traits Among Schools with
"The impact of RNN has now reached into 5,000 classrooms, which is very exciting," said Kelli Campbell, Kent ISD director of teaching and learning. In total, it includes 170 Michigan school districts.
A main component of RNN was a field study of schools, ranging from urban to rural with varying levels of poverty, that significantly outperform their peers. They were: Brown Elementary School in Byron Center Public Schools; North Godwin Elementary in Godwin Heights Public Schools; Lakeshore Elementary in West Ottawa Public Schools; Coit Creative Arts Academy in Grand Rapids Public Schools; and Sunfield Elementary in Lakeview Community Schools.
Campbell formerly worked at Berrien Regional Education Service Agency as director of general education. She was there when administrators became interested in RNN.
"Region 7 was very intrigued by the way (RNN representatives) were looking at their data in Region 3. It was the first time that we looked at student achievement data while controlling for poverty," Campbell said. "We realized we wanted to be a part of this."
Collaboration is Key
In March, RNN hosted the West Michigan Early Literary Leadership Symposium at Western Michigan University, with more than 600 educators from 26 counties attending. Local educators talked about how they have implemented recommendations from RNN, which has led to shelves stocked with books, ongoing reading intervention and a laser-like focus on getting students to read well.
Schoolcraft Community Schools Superintendent Rusty Stitt, a leading advocate for bringing RNN to Region 7, said educators will emulate a lot of what Region 3 has done by conducting its own field study to identify the five common traits, and potentially others, in their schools that are beating the odds.
"We are in this together and these are all of our children," Stitt said. "Like Region 3, our efforts of collaboration are of the utmost importance."
RNN has been a catalyst for collaboration, Cambell said.
"We have students in third grade that can't read. ... It's not OK," she said, noting that on the 2016 M-STEP only 50 percent of students statewide scored proficient in third-grade reading. "We are putting all of our stuff aside to come to the table and say, 'Let's fix this. How do we do it? And let's learn from each other.'"
The Momentum Continues
Two years ago, Region 3 field study members discovered five key findings that are common traits among schools with high reading proficiency. Since then, RNN representatives have begun working in designated "lab schools" that were not achieving high proficiency. Many districts have shaped instruction and curriculum around the findings.
At the March symposium, educators from lab schools spoke about their work with RNN including implementing literacy practices, which are researched as effective in boosting proficiency.
"We have noticed a significant increase in third-grade ELA (English language arts) proficiency," said Kyle Mayer, Ottawa Area ISD assistant superintendent for instructional services and an original field study member. "The exciting thing is across the region we have seen an increase in student achievement at all levels of poverty."
Mayer said the growing interest hasn't been just limited to Region 7.
"Our initiative has captured the attention of superintendents statewide," he said. "I think we have started something others will emulate. ... The big picture is this train is not slowing down and there are so many good things going on."
RNN has applied for an $800,000 Education, Innovation and Research grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which would allow more schools to receive intervention as lab schools. Mayer said they will know by July if they are awarded the grant.
Herman Miller Inc. donated $20,000 worth of books to Moon Elementary, in Muskegon, and $10,000 to Parkview Elementary School, in Wyoming, both RNN lab schools.
Scholastic Publishing Co. is offering RNN schools discounted classroom libraries and providing teacher training to use them.
A fall leadership symposium is scheduled for Oct. 13 at a to-be-determined location. It will feature keynote speaker Doug Reeves, author of more than 20 books and many articles on leadership and organizational effectiveness.
"Helping kids read is fun work," Mayer said.
Campbell said part of the fun is seeing just how far-reaching it can be.
"Beyond the improvement to literacy, beyond that great work, it's the collaboration," she said. "It's opening up the classroom doors to one another regardless of which district you are in, which county you are in, or which ISD you are from.
"We are learning from each other," she added. "We are sharing resources. We are sharing our strengths. But we are also being vulnerable and being open to say, 'This is where we are struggling, and can you help?'
"That type of collaboration is contagious."
Reading Now Network
Submitted on: April 25th 2017