Decatur City Schools Superintendent Michael Douglas said a change at the state level has his third, fourth and fifth grade teachers behind the curve in teaching reading programs, and two literacy specialists will be brought in for two years to close the gap.
After a special school board meeting last week, Douglas said the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) expanded assessment on early reading and phonics through the fifth grade.
The state has provided kindergarten through second grade teachers with Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training to help them enhance students' reading abilities, but not third through fifth grade teachers, according to Douglas.
The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education said LETRS focuses on the science of reading and supports teachers in diagnosing reading issues, prescribing a strategy, and assessing the effectiveness of the instruction provided to support the student.
"Now if (students are) going to be tested on it, (teachers) need to be trained on it," Douglas said. "We’re being put in a position to make sure all of our teachers, even in those upper grades, even to the sixth grade, have the training they need to ensure they are not teaching just reader comprehension but also the science of (reading).”
He said the science of reading is being able to “look at a word, decode the word, and read it fluently so you are not dependent on mom and dad to decode it."
Douglas said literacy specialists will train teachers and reading coaches, and monitor the progress.
“The literacy specialist will go into every elementary school and middle school,” he said.
The specialist will train teachers and then go back to watch the teacher teach to ensure the training has been effective, Douglas said.
He said the state will fund the training specialists program for two years.
"Colleges are starting to get on board (with the change),” Douglas said. “In two years, colleges will be caught up, and I’ll be hiring people who are already trained (in) LETRS and science of reading. We won’t have to spend many dollars to retrain entire staffs. We’ve already started with most of our K-2 training and providing an expert to go around and tweak. ... Then we'll move to fluency and to comprehension.
“Does a kid understand what he just read? That’s our end goal.”
At the board meeting, the transfer of Lesa Torain, reading specialist at Frances Nungester Elementary, to literacy specialist coordinator for the system was approved.
The school system’s summer learning program attracted 750 K-2 students, Douglas said. “That’s more than we’ve ever had,” he said. “We identified some students who needed it and some just wanted to come because of what they might have lost because of the pandemic. We bused them, fed them. We tried to make it easy for them to attend.”
He said the five-week, 70-hour program also included a little science, technology, engineering and math. A summer program for grades 6-12 just started and about 200 students are enrolled.
The programs cost about $1 million and are funded by the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II program. He said ESSER-II money should be available to fund programs for the next two summers.
In other business at the school board meeting, Chief School Financial Officer Mandi Jones said through May 31, the district had $24.6 million or 3.71 months in operating reserve. The state requires each district to maintain a reserve fund for at least one month of operation.
“County sales tax is up 11% year to date,” Jones said. “And city sales tax is up 10%.”
She added the school system has about $1.2 million headed its way from the Simplified Sellers Use Tax that is in an escrow account in Montgomery. Two months ago, the Alabama Supreme Court sided with Decatur City, Hartselle and Morgan County schools in a lawsuit against the Morgan County Commission giving the bulk of online sales taxes to the school systems. Jones said for the month of May, DCS received $53,000 in online sales taxes.
In certified personnel transactions, the board approved:
• Retirement: Pierre R. Coggins, teacher/coach at Decatur High.
• Resignations: Vicki Burks, teacher, Austin Middle; Megan Love, teacher, Frances Nungester Elementary; and Tammy Ford, special education teacher, special services.
• Employment: (pending the procurement of satisfactory documentation): Kenyada Wallace, Army JROTC-NCO instructor, Austin High; Deborah Delacey, seventh grade English/language arts teacher, Austin Middle; Stephanie Nicole Brannan and Tina M. Sanford, K-5 teachers, Banks-Caddell Elementary; Hannah Mask, English/language arts teacher, Decatur High; Mary Virginia Holman, K-5 teacher, Walter Jackson Elementary.
• Transfers: Watt Parker, athletic director at Central Office to TEAMS math teacher at Decatur High; Natalie Janay Hyde, physical education teacher at Decatur High to physical education teacher at Oak Park Elementary; and Lesa Torain, reading specialist at Francis Nungester to literacy specialist coordinator at Decatur City Schools.
• Set the next board meeting for July 20.