WPS Literacy Leadership Team showcases progress

WESTFIELD – The Westfield School Committee Monday was brought up to speed on the overarching goal and ongoing literacy action plan of the District’s Literacy Leadership Team.
The team, composed of Director of Curriculum and Instruction Susan Dargie, Language Arts Supervisor Chris Tolpa, Director of Assessment and Accountability Denise Ruszala, Administrator of Special Education and Student Support Patricia Byrnes, and North Middle School Principal Chris Rodgers, were on hand to stress a goal of 95 percent of all Westfield Public School students in third-grade through ninth-grade reading at or above grade level by 2016.
The team is seeking to accomplish this initiative through improvements in leadership, assessment, instruction, professional development, and intervention.
According to their presentation, the team has already gone about writing a district literacy plan and is implementing monitoring systems for it, and is in the process of establishing individual literacy teams at schools in the district.
Ruszala’s Assessment and Accountability Department has also created a calendar of assessments and has begun implementing the Power School system. The District hoped to have articulated a “comprehensive” Pre K-12 literacy assessment plan by spring 2013, and is in the process of finalizing specific assessments, and looking into several data management systems.
“I am impressed by what we have accomplished for our students in the area of literacy and the work that is ongoing,” Dargie said prior to introducing the team and their progress.
She went on to add that the team’s plan was constructed within the Massachusetts state framework.
After Tolpa spoke of the leadership initiatives being put in place, Ruszala stated the importance of data collection as the district moves forward in this five-year plan.
“We collect individual, classroom, district and state data,” she said, adding that student achievement data “supports instructional decision-making and in making programmatic decisions.”
Ruszala stated that she hopes to have the assessment and data management systems fully implemented by 2015.
Regarding the instruction, professional development, and intervention goals of the district, team members illustrated their hopes to have all teachers implementing “grade appropriate literacy strategies” based on data and driven by the WPS curriculum by 2014.
“Our partnership with the Bay State Reading Initiative has helped strengthen our literacy instruction in grades K through three,” said Dargie of the progress being made in the team’s instruction goal.”We’ll be looking to expand that to grades four and five next year.”
Rodgers spoke of the progress the district has made in a relatively short timespan.
“From where this started in 2010-2011 to the working plan we have in our hands now, we really need to take a minute to stop and recognize our successes as a district,” he said. “In four years’ time, we’ve come a long way.”
Rodgers stated that alignment with state frameworks is occurring at the middle school level citywide.
“We are continuing to use student performance data, from MCAS and this year from our Scholastic Reading Inventory data, to guide our instructional decisions and to provide interventions to some of our most struggling readers,” he added.
Rogers also said that the schools are gearing their professional development days along state framework lines, an initiative that the team is hoping the district will implement using a “formal protocol to monitor and assess its effect on student achievement.”
The team’s fifth goal is for “intervention”, in which the district will seek to implement a tiered instructional model “that provides interventions and multiple levels of support for both students and staff.”
The intervention goal will be building upon the Read 180 and System 44 programs which are already in place at Franklin, Paper Mill, Abner Gibbs, and Southampton Road Elementary Schools, along with North and South Middle School, in addition to Westfield Vocational-Technical High School.
Results from this year’s Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, testing, saw marked improvement.
The start of the 2013-2014 school year saw the district’s first-graders receive an intensive score of 13 percent, a 22 percent jump from the district’s kindergarten score of 35 percent which has Westfield Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Scallion ecstatic.
“These are the same kids, but absolutely incredible results,” she said.
“They’ve been working hard. We’re making good headway, but we’ve got a ways to go.”
“We’re pleased with the steps we’ve taken,” she said. “We’re trying to get our students prepared for more rigorous curriculum in the later grades.”
Scallion also praised the efforts of Tolpa, saying she has “spearheaded these efforts.”
“She sits on state committees. She’s written questions for the MCAS,” Scallion said of the qualifications of the District’s ELA Supervisor. “We’re very lucky to have this team.”

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