The teaching of reading is the fundamental cornerstone of the entire educational process.
In the Tupelo Public Schools we begin with teaching children to recognize letters, sounds of letters, sounds of letter combinations, and then words. Reading is learned. It is not innate like learning to walk and talk. Reading is much more than just calling words. Students must understand what they read and then be able to apply that knowledge.
Teaching of reading has been and always will be a priority for the Tupelo Public Schools. Our district’s approach to teaching reading is grounded in a strong research-based program that places an emphasis on the importance of phonics. We have found that approximately 90 percent of all Tupelo students make satisfactory progress and flourish under the normal instruction of our teachers. However, there are others who need additional attention and assistance.
The International Dyslexia Association holds that dyslexia cannot be determined by a single test. To determine that a child is dyslexic, multiple assessments must be administered, careful observations made, and interviews conducted with teacher(s), parents, and sometimes even the child. In other words, the more training and skill that a therapist has in identifying this condition, the more assured we all can be that the child is receiving the appropriate services to assist him or her in learning to read.
The district is now extremely fortunate to be able to call upon the services of an expert in the field of dyslexia diagnostics and academic therapy. Jodie Parham was hired by the TPSD in 2007, and in December, 2008, she earned her MEd. in dyslexia therapy from Mississippi College, one of just five in the nation, to offer this degree. Having also completed 820 clinical hours of training and two years of graduate work, Parham is one of a very limited number of certified academic language therapists in the state. An academic language therapist is a specialist who is specifically trained to work with students with dyslexia. Parham has completed training in dyslexia identification through the Texas Scottish-Rite Hospital as well as extensive accredited training in the teaching of the structure of the English language in a multi-sensory manner. This training is extremely helpful in determining if a student needs specific academic therapy or tutoring.
Unlike many school districts across our state and nation, the Tupelo Public School District now has the capacity and expertise to: “identify, diagnose, prescribe, and offer intervention(s)” for dyslexic students in need of additional assistance, and this is a very special educational service. All K-6 teachers have received training in various dyslexia methodologies, and similar training in multi-sensory techniques is presently being offered to teachers in grades 7 through 12. These vitally-important methodologies will better prepare teachers to provide more effective assistance for students who experience reading difficulties.
The district acknowledges that reading is a brain-processing function. Therefore, the district will continue to use visual, tactile, kinesthetic, auditory stimulation, and the most up-to-date methodologies in systematic and explicit ways to teach students to read. Our district remains student-centered and relentless in seeking this support for our students. We are committed to helping all students become the best readers that they can be because we recognize that reading is fundamental to all learning.
Randy McCoy is superintendent of the Tupelo Public Schools. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.