Posted by Dr. Mark Holodick at 12/14/2015
Dear BSD Community,
Big news! As you may know, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed the U.S. House and Senate and President Obama signed it into law last week. This is significant to all of us in public education as it includes an extensive list of changes to the U.S. Department of Education, most notably shifting more decision-making authority back to states and districts.
Here in BSD, we have engaged families, dedicated staff, a committed and active School Board, strong committees, and a supportive community-at-large. As such, I believe we are well positioned to use the new flexibility afforded by ESSA to support our schools, students, and staff. It starts with the District Success Plan. This plan was developed after the District’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee sought critical feedback, ideas, and suggestions from more than 250 students, staff, parents, elected officials, and community members in 2014 and 2015. I hope you will take some time to look it over, as it will serve as a roadmap to our district’s future. At the very least, I hope you will familiarize yourself with the plan's five major goals: High Quality Comprehensive Instructional Programming for All Students, District Innovation Guided by the Needs of the 21st Century Learner, Purposely Designed, Safe, Healthy Learning Environments, 21st Century Professionals Providing Outstanding Customer Service & Leadership, and Fiscal Responsibility & Trustworthy Stewardship. Anyone desiring more details about any of the goals or associated strategies can easily dig deeper via the many links within the Plan.
Big changes - like ESSA and a new District Success Plan - can be overwhelming. However, I believe focusing on the fundamentals in the classroom ultimately will have the greatest impact on student achievement, particularly in two areas.
1. A student's relationship with their teacher and the quality of instruction in the classroom. Children, like adults, work very hard for teachers/leaders who they both like and respect. It is critical that we support and develop great teachers as the trajectory of a student’s academics career hinges on their performance.
2. All students reading on grade level by grade 3.
If we do number 2 well, everything else will fall into place in the later years. We simply must teach all students to read by focusing on decoding skills, fluency, and comprehension. This is non-negotiable in BSD and should be non-negotiable everywhere. We know that reading well is the gateway to learning and success in all subjects. We also know that reading on grade level is a key first step in ensuring equity for all of our students (more on that later).
Last week, I participated in two events that give me great hope. First, I was asked to be a guest reader at the Reclaiming the Promise event at Mount Pleasant Elementary School. Through this event, our paraprofessionals association purchased and gave new books to each 1st-3rd grade student. Similar events have taken place at many of our elementary schools over the past year and a half, and we are so grateful to the paraprofessionals for their generosity. Secondly, I was invited by Principal Ned Gladfelter and Reading Specialist Linda Loach from Claymont Elementary to participate in a bedtime story event. While parents participated in a PTA meeting, Claymont staff (and special guests) read aloud to students. Both of these creative and strategic initiatives are succeeding in making children excited about reading. The student enthusiasm at these events was palpable.
This ties directly into the above mention of equity. Equity starts with a concentrated focus on leveling the playing field for all children, and reading is one area where we can establish that. If a student reads on or above grade level, there is a greater likelihood that they will succeed in other classes and subject areas as well. Over time, addressing equity becomes more natural as all students are able to navigate their studies more fluidly and become prepared for whatever they choose to do throughout their life. The world does indeed become their oyster.
Mark A. Holodick, Ed.D.