My turn: Innovative literacy program is designed to help students

Posted: Thursday, August 04, 2005

Launching Literacy is a new Juneau School District program being piloted at Mendenhall River Community School and Glacier Valley Elementary. It is our desire to clarify and educate parents about this new program. We find this program to be an innovative and creative way to deal with the issues our schools face today.

This staff-development concept was first introduced to our site council and parent-teacher organization in May. Everyone who attended these meetings thought it was a good idea and encouraged our principal, Patty Newman, to pursue its implementation. Additionally, we support our teachers who also support Launching Literacy.

Launching Literacy is a pilot program that will benefit all students. It is designed to improve student reading performance and the quality of early reading instruction and interventions. It will provide teachers with strategies and tools to help our children to be successful learners. This program will also help us achieve the increasing levels of proficiency necessary to meet the No Child Left Behind Act's requirements.

Many districts statewide and nationally are using similar staff-development models and are experiencing positive results. We are serious about our children's education and believe that it is essential to provide a quality program.

Our school is a good school, our teachers are top-notch, but we know there is always room for improvement. Research tells us that creating a collaborative culture is the single most important factor for successful school improvement initiatives and the first order of business for those seeking to enhance the effectiveness of their schools.

Reporting and accountability are key elements of this program. Launching Literacy will be monitored and data will be collected and evaluated throughout the year to ensure that the program is providing the intended benefit. Literacy instruction surveys will be completed with staff at various points throughout the year. Friday afternoon meeting agendas and minutes will be required and posted publicly. Reports and updates will be included in our school newsletter.

Our school schedule has been modified by beginning student instruction 15 minutes earlier each day. These increased blocks of time create focused, longer periods for learning and take advantage of the optimal time of day for elementary students to learn. Research shows that young children absorb more information earlier in the day. By increasing our time in the morning we are creating a perfect time for targeted instruction.

Concerns have been raised regarding the loss of roughly 20 hours of instructional time during the school year as a result of this program. By scheduling staff development in the afternoon there is a minimal impact on student instructional time.

• Students will be dismissed at 12:45 p.m. on Friday (subtract 135 minutes from instructional time).

• Students will report at 8:15 a.m. each day (add 75 minutes of classroom instructional time).

• There will be no lunch recess or afternoon recess on Friday (add 45 minutes instructional time)

This results in the loss of 15 minutes of instructional time a week.

The district, Mendenhall River school and Glacier Valley Elementary are aware that the Friday dismissal time will impact family schedules and are working on solutions to make the transition to this new program as easy as possible. Several options will assist our families.

We had hoped the district would approve this proposal before the last school year ended, as we could not send out any information without district approval. Due to the extension of the legislative session, the Juneau School Board was unable to act on this proposal until mid-June. State approval and busing schedules were not obtained until mid-July. We informed parents as soon as all approvals were granted.

We encourage Mendenhall River school families to stay involved with your child's education and we welcome parents to site council and parent-teacher organization meetings throughout the year.

• Kathy Zamudio is co-chairwoman and Melissa Nell is a member of the Mendenhall River Community School Site Council, whose members contributed to and approved this commentary.

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