NNPS participates in Lunch and Literacy discussion on urgency of reading proficiency

Posted: November 2, 2023

Student reading skills affect their entire educational experience and trajectory, according to experts leading a public discussion of literacy November 1 at Achievable Dream Middle and High School.

Newport News Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michele Mitchell and Greenwood Elementary School Principal Ethel Francis participated in a panel that featured Dr. Lisa Coons, superintendent of public instruction at the Virginia Department of Education, and Anita Jennings, director of the Newport News Public Library. Newport News Mayor Phillip D. Jones moderated the panel, which was co-hosted by E3: Elevate Early Education, the City of Newport News, NNPS and NNPL.

"Literacy is a civil right," Coons said as the conversation began.

Attendees watched segments of "The Right to Read" documentary and listened to panelists discuss how the community can work together to advance literacy and reading locally and across Virginia. Lisa Howard, president and CEO of E3: Elevate Early Education, explained that the event is one of many being held across the state and charged everyone with participating as E3 and state officials use partnerships to improve literacy.

The Virginia Literacy Act seeks to change the entire system of teaching and learning reading, which is a vast departure from past ways of approaching the issue, according to Coons. Teachers need support and school leaders, particularly superintendents, have to provide a vision for the school divisions to focus on implementing it.

"It comes back to the community, and this is a significant change on how we need to work." Coons said.

NNPS uses one of the state-approved programs to teach reading - Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS). It focuses on systematic code-based and language comprehension instruction using professional development curriculum adjustments and high-quality resources.

"I want everyone to know we are on track," Mitchell said, adding that elementary school teachers, principals and reading specialists have been trained on LETRS.

Greenwood Elementary improved third grade reading scores by 11% in one school year in 2023 after implementing LETRS. Using data that tracks individual students' progress and sharing it within the school community and with parents is ongoing, according to Francis.

"We look at data frequently; we use that data explicitly," Francis said.

NNPS middle school English teachers will be taking LETRS training to replicate what was done in the elementary schools as the program expands across the division.

"Please know it is on our radar," Mitchell said.

VDOE officials are implementing tutoring for students who may be behind in reading and getting them caught up as well as a step ahead, and formed the Chronic Absenteeism Task Force to address students not attending school regularly, according to Coons. Mitchell was the first person to volunteer to join the task force.

Local libraries are a key partner in improving the reading skills of citizens of all ages.

"The library is a vital community resource," Jennings said. She emphasized that the library's programming starts with very young age groups, so it's never to early to start introducing books to children.

Every NNPS student automatically has a NNPL library card and Jennings encouraged families to bring students to the library to upgrade the card to full access for additional resources. The library's outreach department has a new mobile library that is bringing a variety of services out into the community.

NNPS provides one book each month for students in kindergarten and first and second grades, Mitchell said. Teachers introduce each book in class as part of lessons and send it home with students.

Literacy is a community effort and parents should expect to partner with school officials in a two-way responsibility for improving reading skills, according to Mitchell.

"Parents, hold us accountable," Mitchell said. "When you go to a parent-teacher conference and your child is struggling with reading, you should never walk out empty-handed. Expect to receive from schools this is what you can do at home to help support your child.

"Partner with us, but also hold us accountable because we are here to help educate your children."

View the Lunch and Literacy event photo album on Facebook.