Insights from an Experienced District Leader
Catherine Neal, the supervisor of early literacy and elementary reading and writing in the Loudoun school district, discusses the implementation of the science of reading at scale. She emphasizes the importance of evidence-based literacy practices and aligning with state mandates. The district makes strategic changes to assessment practices, such as discontinuing the DRA, and introduces programs like Heggerty to enhance phonemic awareness instruction. They prioritize teacher mindset by offering professional learning opportunities and support. Collaboration and communication across departments are crucial in establishing a unified approach. Neal also highlights the significance of a long-term vision and continuity for sustainable implementation. Her tips for other districts include valuing and celebrating teachers’ expertise, as well as building capacity and empowering them throughout the process.
- Emphasizing Evidence-Based Literacy Practices and State Alignment: The implementation focuses on evidence-based literacy practices that have been proven effective in research. It also aligns with state mandates and standards to ensure a rigorous and cohesive approach to literacy instruction.
- Strategic Assessment Changes: The district makes deliberate changes to assessment practices, such as discontinuing the use of the DRA, based on critical evaluation and feedback from teachers. This allows for a more accurate and informative assessment of student progress and helps inform instructional decisions.
- Targeted Instructional Programs: The implementation includes the introduction of targeted instructional programs, like Heggerty, to address specific areas of need, such as phonemic awareness. These programs provide explicit and systematic instruction, ensuring students receive the necessary foundational skills for reading and writing success.
- Teacher Mindset and Professional Learning: Recognizing the importance of teacher mindset, the district prioritizes professional learning opportunities and ongoing support. This helps educators develop a deep understanding of evidence-based practices and build confidence in implementing them effectively.
- Collaborative Approach: Collaboration and communication across departments are key components of the implementation strategy. By bringing together diverse stakeholders, including assessment teams, special education departments, and language departments, the district fosters a cohesive and unified approach to literacy instruction.
- Long-Term Vision and Sustainability: The implementation is guided by a long-term vision, considering the evolving needs of students and the shifting landscape of literacy instruction. This ensures that changes are not merely short-term fixes but are sustainable and impactful, creating lasting improvements in literacy outcomes.
- Valuing and Empowering Teachers: The district recognizes and celebrates teachers’ expertise, valuing their contributions to literacy instruction. Teachers are empowered through professional development opportunities, ongoing support, and the opportunity to shape instructional practices, making them active participants in the implementation process.