Literacy leadership: CELI instructors help Dundee Elementary improve

By Edwin Smith/University of Mississippi

OXFORD – When administrators, faculty and students at Dundee Elementary School learned they had achieved “Star” school status from the Mississippi Department of Education, the staff of the University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction rejoiced with them.
CELI personnel have worked with Dundee Elementary in Tunica County for three years. Ole Miss faculty Ashley Parker and Tamara Hillmer deliver professional development, work with the school’s literacy leadership team and mentor about 10 teachers.
Through teamwork, strategic planning and a concentrated effort to improve, Dundee moved up in the rankings this year, making it one of 65 Star schools in the state and the only one in the Mississippi Delta.
Star is the highest of seven rankings that the MDE gives to schools. Those rankings are based upon student scores on state tests.
Principal Dexter Green attributes the school’s success in part to the CELI partnership.
“In our efforts to reach our lofty goal of becoming a Star school, we had to improve in the area of teaching language arts,” Green said. “Language arts teachers meet monthly with CELI consultants for ongoing professional development to learn innovative teaching strategies for reading and writing.”
Rising to higher expectations for student achievement, all teachers in third to fifth grades exceeded the state average of students scores on the standardized tests. Three teachers achieved Star performing status for having a Quality of Distribution Index score of 200 and above. They are fourth-grade teachers Natasha Bates and Adrienne Sims and fifth-grade teacher Celeste Maugh.
Both Parker and Hillmer said they found collaborating with DES faculty and staff both challenging and rewarding.
“Dundee teachers had some initial hesitation about our involvement when we began three years ago, but once we overcame their fears, we were able to help them with their goals for improvement,” Parker said. “Over the years we’ve seen a positive shift in the confidence of both teachers and students. They are highly motivated, and the energy is infectious.”
When the partnership began in 2008, many teachers were simply using textbook manuals to deliver whole-group instruction. But now, teachers have learned to deliver effective literacy instruction that includes vocabulary development, comprehension strategies, literacy work stations and oral language development.
“Teachers dive into student data and plan according to what their students need, not necessarily what is in a textbook manual,” Hillmer said.
For CELI, Dundee’s success means that UM faculty more fully understand the necessary components to change the odds of students who live in high-poverty, rural communities.
“It takes knowledgeable, compassionate and committed teachers who are provided job-embedded professional support and administrators who provide the resources to make professional learning a priority for all teachers,” said Angela Rutherford, UM associate professor of curriculum and instruction and CELI director. “This very collaborative work also pays big dividends in high teacher retention. High teacher retention means consistency in the faculty, which allows for professional learning that can be sustained and extended each year.”
Dundee teachers concur with Rutherford.
“CELI gave me an opportunity for more diversification of instruction in my classroom,” Sims said. “As a result, my students are more independent and excited about reading. It challenges me to see that their instruction is interesting and caters to every student’s needs.”
Third-grade teacher Marie McGowan said CELI has helped her become a “more reflective teacher. I dig deeper into instructional strategies and implement them with my students. CELI is an invaluable resource.”
DES scored as a “Successful” school, the third-highest ranking, in 2009 and a “High Performing School,” the second-highest ranking, in 2010.