By Jeanna Baxter White
Davie County Schools is on a roll–an honor roll. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has released its statewide End-of-Grade (EOG) test data for 2017-18, and Davie County has moved from 45th to 17th out of 115 districts in 3rd-grade reading proficiency. Based on last year’s test results, Cooleemee Elementary is now in the top 4 percent of North Carolina elementary schools for academic growth, with a ranking of 47th out of 1,218 schools statewide. In addition, kindergarten readiness in Davie County has improved from 71 percent to 80 percent based on the Dial-4 screening assessment.
These are just three of the successes Davie County Schools officials shared while summarizing the first year of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), a five-year early literacy initiative launched in April 2017 to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
Supported by a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, the specific goals of the initiative are to improve kindergarten readiness from 70 percent to 90 percent and to increase reading proficiency in third grade from 60 percent to 80 percent by 2022. This project will impact approximately 2,300 elementary students each year over the 5-year implementation period.
Hard Work of Dedicated Educators Leading to Outstanding Results
“Dr. Hartness [superintendent, Davie County Schools] and Larry Colbourne [president, Mebane Foundation] challenged us to ‘move the needle’,” said Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools. “In just one year, students and staff have made real progress. For example, moving from 60 to 64 percent proficient in 3rd-grade reading may not sound like a huge difference, but the rise from 45th to 17th in the state shows just how significant the gains are. Sustaining this level of growth for the next four years of this initiative would make Davie #1 in the state.”
“These results are attributed to the hard work and dedication of our teachers,” Lynde added. “They have been diligent in the use of a balanced literacy approach, as well as in strengthening their grade level professional learning communities (PLCs.) We are also seeing the benefits of incorporating research-based programs that build foundational literacy skills, such as Letterland and HillRAP in all of our elementary schools.”
Cooleemee Elementary Attracting Attention of State Leaders
“Cooleemee attributes our growth to meeting every child, every day on their level,” said Cindy Stone, principal of Cooleemee Elementary School. “DavieLEADS has strengthened our balance between meeting a student’s specific need and holding to the rigor of North Carolina standards which led to a snowball effect of student growth.“
Recognizing this tremendous growth, state officials Lt. Governor Dan Forest, Senator Dan Barrett, and Representative Julia Howard toured Cooleemee Elementary last week to see the process for themselves.
“It was empowering for my staff to have state officials tour our school because they wanted to understand exactly what we are doing to achieve such substantial growth, and it was priceless watching the students share about their learning.”
Through DavieLEADS, Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschools, appreciates the opportunity to work with other childcare providers across the district to ensure children are prepared for kindergarten. “DavieLEADS has enabled all NC Pre-Kindergarten sites to use the same curriculum and assessments. Coupled with supportive professional development, this has brought a new alignment between public and private preschool classes. To better understand what ‘kindergarten ready’ means, preschool teachers are visiting kindergarten teachers and experiencing expectations in their classrooms. All of these efforts are building capacity and consistency in expectations and teaching practices in preschool programs across the county.”
Early Results Confirm “None Better than Right Here in Davie County”
“To be honest, my board and I weren’t expecting these types of gains in the first year of implementation, so when Dr. Hartness and his staff presented the first year results to us in September, we couldn’t have been happier,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Mebane Foundation. “We recognize the hard work, time, and effort that our educators have put into the additional training and professional development in Year 1, and they are to be commended and thanked, not only by the Mebane Foundation but by families who benefit directly from that extra work. So, I personally want to say ‘thank you’ to all of them!”
Officials are pleased with these early results and optimistic about continued growth, as teachers receive ongoing professional development on Guided Reading, Letterland, HillRAP, and Reading Research to Classroom Practice (RRtCP) through DavieLEADS.
DavieLEADS is an investment in Davie County Schools. “We are so grateful for the partnership with the Mebane Foundation,” said Jinda Haynes, assistant superintendent. “This laser-focused literacy initiative is building teacher capacity and providing resources we wouldn’t otherwise have to support teaching and learning. The work isn’t easy; ask any teacher. However, we want the best for students and the community we serve, and the results are already reflecting teachers’ efforts. We hope seeing the results from the first year will be encouraging and help us build momentum.”
“We realize that this is a 5-year journey in our partnership with DCS and its teachers,” said Colbourne. “That being said, I know that right now our teachers are being asked to do much more than ever before, not only with our reading initiative in DavieLEADS but with new math standards introduced by the state this fall. However, I believe that even in light of these new standards and instructional changes, we can maintain our momentum. This community should be proud of the results that our teachers produced in Year 1 and should continue to support their continued efforts. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, over the last 10 years I’ve been in dozens of school systems and in hundreds of schools across this state, and none is better than what we have here in Davie County!”