What is JCPS Doing to Improve Literacy?

Literacy is a gateway skill for the American dream, says Dr. Robert Cooter, dean of Bellarmine’s School of Education.

Illiteracy impacts the economy. Children who can’t read are less likely to go to college. It can effect their lifespan and it correlates with the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

On Monday, I hosted a WFPL news special on literacy with Gwen Snow, associate principal of JCPS’ ESL Newcomer Academy,  Maria Carrico, an Extended School Services (ESS) coordinator and Dr. Robert Cooter, dean of Bellarmine’s School of Education. Listen to the full show below.

“This is really not a liberal or a conservative cause,” Cooter says.

Studies show that investment in quality early childhood programs pays off, he says. But funding is tight, and just this year federal cuts have led to even further cuts to early childhood education programming.

Jefferson County Public Schools—like most schools districts nationwide—is trying to figure out how to get the best bang for its buck by implementing research-based strategies to improve the literacy rates for its students. 

In every school you find different literacy intervention programs, such as Reading Recovery, which uses one-on-one and small group instruction for first and second graders. The district is also relying on Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), which include groups of teachers that get together and share data and ideas about what’s working for them. 

PLCs doesn’t yet have the concrete data to measure their success, but that will likely come in time, said Maria Carrico, the district’s Extended School Services coordinator who oversees the services for low-performing readers.

“If something worked in one year we would all be great and good,” she says. “We’re going to be looking at that growth over the long haul.”

But teachers also need deep focused learning opportunities with coaching, Cooter says.

“A downside of PLCs is if you’re in a school with a lot of strong teachers, guess what, you’re going to have a pretty strong PLC. But in a lot of our inner city schools with our most challenging students we have teachers that have received the least training, the least support,” he says.

Those interested in exploring which school interventions are proven to work, Cooter points to the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse website.

One of the districts more talked about programs is Newcomer Academy, an English as a Second Language (ESL) program that serves a growing immigrant student population. The school—located in Shawnee High School—serves a few hundred students, but it’s able to concentrate on English language skills more than traditional schools. 

The goal is to get students out of Newcomer Academy within one to two years and into traditional schools, where they’ll continue receiving some ESL supports, Snow says. 

The number of students served by Newcomer Academy has multiplied since it first open seven years ago, Snow says, and the district is aware of the growing populations that will likely continue needing certain English language services in the future.

The number of limited English proficient population in JCPS has doubled since the 2004-2005 school year from 3,119 to 6,211 last year, says Gwen Snow, associate principal of Newcomer Academy.

The Next Louisville project is a partnership of WFPL News, the Community Foundation of Louisville, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation and The Gheens Foundation, Inc.

(Image via Shutterstock.com)

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama host middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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