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Every county school to get a reading teacher

February 07, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Board of Education wants to hire eight new reading teachers- one for each middle school- next year.

The teachers are intended to promote literacy and make sure students in grades 6-8 reach expected testing levels.

"We need to look to the future and do some forward thinking," Sherry Purkey, supervisor of reading and English language arts for grades 6-12, told the School Board during a Feb. 2 work session.

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"We need to make sure they leave eighth grade ready for high school," she said.

The new "literacy resource" teachers are the second step in a three-part initiative that began in elementary schools this year. Each elementary school now has a reading resource teacher.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. included $278,609 in his proposed budget to install reading teachers at the middle school level. It is sixth among the top funding priorities.

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Next year the administration will also seek money for high school reading teachers, according to Theresa Flak, assistant superintendent of instruction.

"What we're trying to do is start from elementary and build it to high school," Bartlett said. Reading specialists will give the "best, most productive, quickest results," turning the school system around, he said.

Director of Secondary Education Boyd Michael III believes improving students' reading will improve their overall academic performance.

Maryland State Performance Assessment Program test data shows Washington County's students' scores have reached a plateau, according to Michael.

"If we don't make a significant change, we're just going to stay flat," he told the School Board Friday. Reading specialists will improve scores in math, social studies, language usage and other subjects, he said.

The new teachers will perform a "dual role," working with teachers and students, Purkey said. They will work with small groups of students, helping those "at risk or in need of intervention" as well as "the best and brightest" advanced readers, she said.

They will teach the three purposes of reading: to perform a task, gather information or have a "literary experience," as with fiction. The teachers will also provide "on-site staff development," helping teachers write lesson plans or interpret assessments.

It is too soon to know how much reading teachers have helped elementary schools. There are no concrete data yet, but parents and principals are pleased, according to Purkey. "It's going very well," she said.

In her presentation to the School Board last week, Purkey listed a dozen reasons to hire reading specialists. The number one reason was students. "I think these positions are very important in helping us help our kids," she said.

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