RANDY MCCOY: Our commitment: Teach reading in Tupelo

The teaching of reading is the cornerstone of our educational process.

In the Tupelo Public School District we begin with teaching children to recognize letters, sounds of letters, sounds of letter combinations, and then words.

Reading is learned, and it is not innate like learning to walk and talk. Reading is more than

just calling words.

Students must understand what they read and then be able to apply that knowledge.

In our school district we begin teaching by using the Guided Reading Process.

This process requires teachers to apply research-based approaches to reading instruction.

National standards, local students

We use nationally validated assessments such as the Early Prevention of School Failure and On-the-Mark Assessment in order to determine individual student needs. Students with similar needs are grouped together for instruction using the leveled readers and other nationally recognized programs which emphasize skills for reading and vocabulary. Our adopted basal reader, Houghton-Mifflin Reading, is highly recommended for students displaying signs of dyslexia.

As students progress through the intricate learning process of establishing brain connections to decode written language, teachers look for signs which may indicate that students either need help or that they are reaching accelerated levels in the reading process. It should be noted that the average TPSD second-grader, who has progressed at our predicted pace in learning to read or who has accelerated through the reading process, scores better than 75 percent of all other students on nationally normed tests.

TPSD students who are identified as having difficulty in learning to read find many different levels of support available to them. Presently, the Tupelo Public School District has approximately forty teachers who are trained in the Orton-Gillingham process of teaching reading. This process is the research base for most commercially produced dyslexia programs.

Multiple specialities

The Tupelo Public Schools also have staff members in every building who are trained in the Texas Scottish Rites program. We have Orchard software which is a main-stream teaching tool that diagnoses student needs, assigns instruction, and then assesses mastery. The Orchard software is also used to address the unique learning needs of English Language Learners. Earobics is but another software program that is available in the Tupelo Public Schools to assist students with language, word sounds, and spelling.

Our schools have two other additional programs that provide small group and individual instruction. Reading Recovery provides specific, systematic instruction for children who struggle with beginning reading skills. Reading Recovery teachers receive rigorous training and are required to recertify annually. Secondly, the Intensified Time program is designed to enrich reading and writing opportunities for high-achieving students. An added benefit is that Intensified Time gives the classroom teacher additional time to spend with students who are struggling. Simply stated, it is a “win-win” situation for all students. As a final step, if a student continues to have difficulty and is identified as having a specific learning disability, highly trained teachers with specialized skills in establishing brain connections or coping skills are called upon.

The reading curriculum in the Tupelo Public School District acknowledges that reading is a brain-processing function. Therefore, visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and auditory stimulation are used in systematic and explicit ways to teach students to read.

Whether using traditional or highly specialized instruction, our teachers are trained in the skills necessary to help students learn to read. Our school district is student-centered and relentless in seeking support for our students. We are committed to helping students become the best readers that they can be because we realize that the cornerstone of the educational process is reading.

Randy McCoy's email address is rdmccoy@tupelo.k12.ms.us. He is superintendent of the Tupelo Public Schools.