DavieLEADS – Building Momentum on Encouraging First Year Results

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.

Front row left to right: Representative Julia Howard, Joyah Abrams, Amy Zamora, Alex Rueda-Romero, Mary Jordan, Sam Sellers, Dayvee Smith. Back row left to right: Principal Cindy Stone, Superintendent Darrin Hartness, Lt.Governor Dan Forest, Xavier Parker, Town Clerk John Chandler, AJ Imes. Exuberant smiles standing under Top 4% Growth Banner

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.

DavieLEADS Teacher Training

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.”

Letterland Training through DavieLEADS

“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.“

DavieLEADS Impacting Private Daycare Learners

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.”

Professional Learning Community

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!”

DavieLEADS – Impacting Early Literacy in Public and Private Preschools throughout Davie County

By Jeanna B. White
Learning to read and write is an ongoing process from infancy. Contrary to popular belief, it does not suddenly begin in kindergarten or first grade.

Children who fall behind in oral language and literacy development in the years before formal schooling are less likely to be successful beginning readers; and their achievement lag is likely to persist throughout the primary grades and beyond.

DavieLEADS was created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

From the earliest years, everything that adults do to support children’s language and literacy is critical. Research shows that when adults create rich language and literacy environments, they can boost that child’s emerging language and literacy development and increase the likelihood of future academic success. And the adults with the greatest potential to help are the most important ones in that child’s life: his parents and caregivers, including child care providers and early childhood educators (ECEs).

“Preschool is the bridge to kindergarten through 3rd grade,” said Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool programs for Davie County Schools. The whole initiative is reaching Pre-K through 3rd grade, which aligns with the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds) federal guidelines for birth to 8 years. We are building the foundation for the literacy concept so that when the students reach kindergarten, they are ready to hit the road with a lot of rigorous literacy. Since we are using the same Letterland curriculum, there is a lot of continuity from the start.”

Professional Development Support for Public & Private Preschool Facilities
The preschool portion of the DavieLEADS initiative provides professional development, materials, and specialized support staff to develop and build the professional capacity of 13 preschool classroom teachers in Davie County Schools and 14 preschool teachers in private facilities.

During this first year, the four NC Pre-K’s in private facilities received the same curriculum and assessment tools used in the public NC Pre-K classrooms including Letterland, Creative Curriculum 5, and GOLD Assessments as well as laptop technology. A collaborative teacher was hired to build relationships with the various child care programs in the county and to provide coaching services and support to the teachers as they learn to use the new curriculum and assessment tools.

“These programs were using state-approved curriculum and assessment tools before the initiative, but the grant has enabled them to get the current and same tools used in the NC Pre-K classrooms in the public school settings,” said Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher. “I have had a standards-based conversation with each program to determine what type of support I might be able to offer them in reaching those standards to improve the quality of learning for the students they care for.”

“I visit weekly to help the teachers set goals for themselves and to provide support such as model teaching or developing resources, and talking through the standards. We discuss What does that standard mean? What does it look like? How do I teach it? How do I know if a student has met the standard? How do I individualize instruction for different students?“

“As I’ve talked with them to learn what their interests and needs may be, I discovered the need for training on social/emotional development and practices in the classroom which also created opportunities for the teachers to connect better with the school system and to see kindergarten classrooms firsthand,” she added.

Support, Modeling and Collaboration
Nuckolls believes the coaching and support provided by Nelson are the keys to the success of the kindergarten readiness portion of the initiative. “Without the support, the modeling, and the checking in to make sure the fidelity is there and continues, the resources mean nothing.”

“It’s hard for administrators to consistently provide coaching and support on new curriculum when they have so many business aspects to take care in running a child care program. It is very important to have a collaborative teacher in the facility working weekly and monthly with those teachers answering questions and helping them fine-tune using those resources throughout their classrooms in all aspects of their schedule.”

Nelson agreed, sharing that she thinks the term collaborative teacher was chosen for her title because she not only collaborates with the teachers receiving new materials but helps to bridge collaboration between the public and private school settings.

“We are also extending beyond just the NC Pre-K classrooms and offering coaching services and curriculum support to half-day preschool programs, Head Start, and to preschool classrooms that do not have NC Pre-K funding. Any childcare facility in the community can tap into curriculum support. I can offer any coaching services to any of the administrators and teachers.”

Nuckolls said another critical piece of the collaboration is creating a common language between the NC Pre-Ks and other licensed and non-licensed facilities.

“We built that common language maybe ten years ago, but things grow, and we end up in our own little world, and there hasn’t been that connection in a while. Creating that common language of what is kindergarten readiness? And having all of these people at the same table talking about kindergarten standards and preschool foundations and understanding how they align is huge! Otherwise, we have people that are so segmented and living in their own little box in their own little world that they don’t understand the larger picture.”

“All of the students in this county in Pre-K will eventually be in Davie County Schools, we hope, so we want to reach out to as many as we can with the understanding that they are all our students,” Nuckolls continued. “At three and four years of age they are still Davie County students, and we care about that relationship and that they are getting the best they can get before they get to us. Kindergarten through 3rd grade is so rigorous at this point that it is essential that they have a high-quality awareness and environment to learn and grow in.”

“For the religious facilities that don’t fall under the same state and federal guidelines, I think that what we are doing is helping them to understand that they are truly part of the bigger picture and that it is helping them set their goals at a different standard,” Nuckolls said. “We have helped them look into Letterland and some of the other curriculum we are using and have offered support and opportunities such as field trips, professional learning communities, and training. We’ve gotten good feedback from these facilities, and some have gone on multiple tours and participated in multiple trainings because they wanted to become enthroned in the common language and environment.”

“We hope they feel valued and know that they matter,” added Nelson.

DIAL Screenings, School Visits & Tours for Preschool Age Children
In addition to offering mentoring and training, Nelson developed a brochure for parents explaining the importance of the DIAL screening for rising kindergarteners, organized field trips for NC Pre-K students and their teachers from private childcare facilities to visit an elementary school, and created a book called “What is an Elementary School” to introduce children to kindergarten.

“Stephanie has gone above and beyond to think of ways to create these transitional pieces to help children get ready for kindergarten,” Nuckolls said. “Having this grant from the Mebane Foundation has given us the ability to focus on the true transitional activities that had been lost. Having someone to be able to focus on that transitional piece has also brought out some valuable experiences this year that we didn’t expect.”

“We really didn’t expect the teachers to embrace this program as much as they have. They have truly opened their doors, they have called and asked questions, and they have been willing to build a relationship. You never know when you do something like this how it is going to be. These teachers have been thirsty for mentoring support, and it has been a wonderful opportunity for Davie County schools to reach out and offer that coaching piece.”

“The teachers have been phenomenal,” added Nelson. “The bottom line is no matter where people in this county are working with children they want to do the best they can for the children. I feel like we’ve put a lot of work this year into building the relationships, but this fall we are going to hit the ground running. I see exciting things on the horizon.”

Letterland – Davie Teachers Receive Hands-on Literacy Training!

By Jeanna B. White

“When I say the word cuckoo, what do you think of? What does it remind you of?” asked Cindy Cooke as she prepared to read “The Cuckoo School” to a class of 2nd graders at Cooleemee Elementary School. 

Cooke, a trainer from Letterland, was modeling a lesson using the Letterland methodology and materials for the school’s 2nd-grade teachers. She and fellow trainer, Reba Walden, traveled to each of Davie County’s elementary schools March 5-7 to model lessons for teachers from kindergarten through 2nd grade and to answer questions about best practices using the program. Teacher assistants stepped in to cover classes so that all of the teachers could participate.

Developed more than 45 years ago at a mother’s dining room table, Letterland is a unique, phonics-based approach to teaching reading, writing and spelling to 3-8-year-olds. The Letterland characters transform plain black letter shapes into child-friendly pictograms, and they all live in an imaginary place called Letterland.

Simple stories about the Letterland characters explain the full range of dry phonics facts so that children are motivated to listen, to think and to learn. These stories explain letter sounds and shapes, allowing children to progress quickly to word building, reading, and writing. As students progress, the lessons become more complex maintaining student interest.

The program works. Engagement in Mrs.O’Neal’s classroom was high as students read aloud, defined vocabulary words, answered questions, and brainstormed ways to personalize the story for their own school.  

Letterland is an essential piece of DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed), the Mebane Foundation’s five-year, $2.5 million grant to improve kindergarten readiness and to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Although all preschool-2nd-grade teachers received Letterland training last year, this was the first time they had the opportunity to meet in small groups and to ask the Letterland consultants specific questions about implementing the program in their classrooms.

“This training was tailored to meet our teachers’ specific needs and focused on what they wanted to work on,” said Amy Spade, literacy coach. “We know we need to elaborate and help our teachers in the areas they feel they need a little more clarification which also assists with implementing the program across the county with consistency.“

Cooke added, “When teachers attend initial training in Letterland, the information and materials can be overwhelming. Coaching is critical and necessary to help teachers implement the instructional practices built into the program. Reba Walden and I are here this week to provide teachers the support they need so they can teach the Letterland program with fidelity.”

The teachers appreciated the coaching and opportunity to ask questions.  

“I found it really helpful to watch someone do an example lesson with students,” said Jennie Kimel, a first-grade teacher at William R. Davie Elementary. “I liked how we had the opportunity to debrief and ask questions afterward to clarify the techniques we saw. I found the visit to be productive and beneficial. I wish we did more training on site like this because handing us a manual is great but watching it in action is a completely different experience.”

Katie Sales, a kindergarten teacher at Cooleemee, agreed, saying, “It was nice to see what else the instructor did beyond the textbook instructions. It is always nice to see how others teach and get new ideas.”  

The Letterland trainers, Cooke and Walden; and literacy coaches, Spade and Renee Hennings-Gonzalez, also met with Jennifer Lynde, director of curriculum and instruction for Davie County Schools, to examine the instructional framework for the district and to assess the implementation of Letterland across the County as a whole.  

Cooke and Walden will return in April to observe teachers in their classrooms and to provide ideas, tips, and tricks that will enrich future lessons.