District approves two new reading programs for students

McDONOUGH — The Henry County Board of Education approved the purchase of two new programs to aid students to learn to read during the August BOE meeting.

The board and community also received a literacy work update from Melissa Morse, chief learning and performance officer with the district.

“A balanced approach to literacy is critical to each student being successful at each grade,” she said.

Morse stated the district intends to focus on the early grades first — kindergarten through second grade — to make sure students have the foundational literacy skills they need. She noted that third grade is a “pivotal” year for students.

“Those who are successful in third grade have many more advantages as they go throughout the school district,” she said.

To address the district’s youngest learners, school officials have developed a model for kindergarten literacy instruction that includes ensuring that all teachers are following Henry’s teaching and learning standards.

During the summer, K-2 teachers and school leaders attended early literacy summits hosted by HCS to allow everyone to have a “common understanding” of what should be happening in classrooms.

Morse said attendees were supplied with a printed copy of the teaching and learning standards and that feedback has been “extremely positive.”

Additionally, Morse explained how educators will go about teaching students and how students will learn. She explained the use of phonics will be implemented starting in kindergarten. While phonics is currently being used in schools, Morse said it will now be introduced through the system by “establishing a prescribed literacy cycle for teaching, progress monitoring and intervening or extension where necessary.”

The new system will start with an eight-12 day cycle of of phonics instruction within the literacy block. At the end of the cycle a phonics assessment developed by the district will be given to students.

Morse said the assessments will give teachers real-time data of how their students are doing instead of waiting until the end of a grading period.

The results of the data will be reviewed by principals and district leaders to look at student and individual student progress. If it’s determined a student is not on pace, then student and teacher intervention and enrichment will be implemented.

“While this model has been adapted to be very specific to the students in Henry County, it is inspired by the really good work that’s happening around the country,” Morse said.

To facilitate the district’s renewed focus on literacy, the BOE approved the purchase of two new programs.

The first is the essential pieces of McGraw Hill’s Open Court Foundational Skill set. It will provide 186 kits with specific items kindergarten teachers in the district have requested. The total cost of the new program is $158,383.77.

Morse said it will also come with approximately $20,000 in free professional development.

The second is a foundational reading intervention program called System 44, which will be used for “the most challenged struggling readers in grades three-12.”

The program will integrate with READ 180 classrooms and combine the “best thinking on research-based phonics instruction with the power of adaptive technology and age-appropriate, supportive fiction and nonfiction text.”

April Madden, chief family and student support officer, said System 44 will benefit students who have “struggled immensely” with their foundational reading skills.

While the READ 180 program, purchased last school year, has benefited students, Madden said System 44 will address those students who don’t qualify for READ 180.

“This starts at the very base that READ 180 doesn’t cover,” Madden said.

She said the program will raise student reading levels by at least one grade level, but can take students up by three reading levels. System 44 will be implemented at schools Madden said have been determined to have the highest need.

The program will be funded using monies from the district’s Individual Disabilities Education Act budget.

Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis said both programs demonstrate how the district is taking a systematic approach to education.

“What you really are seeing is a movement from isolated decision-making about some of the most significant and core business materials, in particular reading, and taking a systematic approach,” she said. “We’re taking what’s already happening in pockets of excellence and bringing systems of excellence to it.”

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Education reporter Heather Middleton joined the Clayton News and Henry Herald in 2002.

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