During the last school year, Monroe County Superintendent Scott Cantrell helped train seven K-2 teachers on how to transform their classrooms into “guided reading” laboratories using Title I dollars.
These teachers, along with their building principals, visited classrooms in other districts where the small group-based approach to reading had already been implemented.
Cantrell’s goal, with the help of Brian Jernigan, the district’s federal programs director, is to create consistency in teaching methods while allowing teachers to meet individual student needs across all early elementary classrooms. But a tight budget wouldn’t allow it to be done all at once.
Then came the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
“We saw tremendous gains in the pilot classrooms and when we saw the stimulus money coming down, we thought, why not bring everyone on line at once?” Cantrell said.
Early elementary students won’t be the only beneficiaries though.
The extra ARRA money for Title I programming will also be spent helping make sure teachers in classrooms beyond the second grade in every discipline are honing their students’ reading skills. The district has contracted with a specialist who will work with grades 3-5 and secondary teachers for the next year to help them learn proven best practices in reading across the curriculum that have translated into results in other states.
“We want to do something different that will have a long-lasting impact on our kids and faculty,” said Cantrell.
One of the Mississippi Board of Education’s three bold goals is to ensure that all students exit the third grade reading on grade level by 2020. Research shows that children who have not achieved this are more at risk of dropping out later in their K-12 career.
Figuring out the best way to use ARRA funds can be tricky, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds said, because at some point, they will run out.
But Monroe County has the right ideas.
“It is imperative that we find uses for these dollars that will help our boys and girls for years to come; otherwise, it’s wasted money,” Bounds said. “Investing in a way a school teaches children to read is a wonderful way to invest for the long haul.”