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Friday
December 14th, 2018

usd 483 logoROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

USD 483 announced recently it was part of a consortium awarded a grant totaling more than $3.2 million from the Literacy Network of Kansas (LINK), a project of the U.S. Department of Education’s Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program.

Eight grantees were selected from competitive application process, according to the Kansas State Department of Education. Kansas received a $27 million federal grant – one of the largest competitive grants received by KSDE – in October 2017.

The agency applied for the grant in July 2017 with the assistance of the University of Kansas Center on Research and Learning. KSDE invited districts/consortia meeting specific criteria to apply for funds from the grant.

“The $3.2 million is to be disbursed among the eight grant winners in the state of Kansas,” Kismet Elementary Principal Jerrilynn Wood said. “There were four individual districts and four consortia. We’re part of a consortium. The requirements for the grant were that you had to have a student population of 5,000 or higher. That left out a lot of districts, so districts formed consortia that competed for the grant, and we were part of a consortium.”

The awardees represent a total of 32 Kansas school districts and 88,000 children. Wood said the grant is the largest the State of Kansas has ever received from the federal government for education. She said that, by itself, was humbling, but at the same time overwhelming due to finding out about the grant late this summer.

“School started, and we’ve been scrambling a little bit to get the things in place to fill the requirements of the grant,” she said. “I think we’ve had good support, and we have a plan of action now. I think everyone feels a little bit better about it.”

LINK projects will help advance literacy skills of children from birth through 12th grade, helping them to become successful readers and writers.

“We are going to have literacy coaches at every attendance center in the district,” Wood said. “There’ll be a literacy coach at Kismet. There will be one at Plains. There will be one at the junior high. There will be one at the high school. We also will have a literacy coach who deals with students who are birth to 5.”

Wood said USD 483 already has pretty good programs in place to address literacy, and the district’s teachers are well-versed in literacy instruction. With this being said, the grant is simply a way to re-enforce some of the good things that are happening and help sharpen reading skills.

“It wasn’t really a grant we felt like there was a concern,” she said. “I don’t want to say there wasn’t a need for it. There’s always a need to improve your practice and get better, but this was just an opportunity for us to provide some re-enforcement to some of the good things that are already happening.”

Each grantee developed a plan that will support students and their families in a variety of ways, based upon a study of local needs. In some districts, community agencies will provide free books and family reading activities, while others will work with preschool children to prepare for kindergarten.

The Kismet-Plains grant will offer literacy coaches at every attendance center, along with resources to impact student literacy. While more will be done, though, Wood said it will be done with the same amount of staff USD 483 already has in place.

“The coaches are teachers who are already in the school,” she said. “We’re not hiring any new people. These are teachers who are assuming extra duties to be the literacy coaches.”

Throughout the three-year grant cycle, a network of resources for educators and families will be developed for future use. These resources will impact literacy at the state, regional and community levels, as well as providing professional learning opportunities for teachers and families.

While it may seem that a rural district such as 483 may need money more than an urban district, Wood said this is not necessarily the case, as some metro areas may be in the same boat as hers.

“Everyone’s kind of taken a hit with budget cuts and stuff the last several years,” she said. “Programs that maybe they were interested in doing at one time, they had to put on the backburner until funding levels returned to what they were. It’s hard to know. It’s hard to say.”

The consortium USD 483 is part of is made up of local area schools with similar demographics. Wood said the district worked with grant writer Kim Myers from the Southwest Plains Regional Service Center in Sublette to apply for the grant.

“We had to come up with a literacy plan and submit that to Kim and also some information about our student population as far as the demographics and things like that,” she said. “Kim put all of that together and put the consortium together, and she’s the one who submitted the grant.”

Wood said libraries in USD 483 schools are adequate, and with much reading material being digital in today’s world, lack of reading materials is not a problem in schools.

“We just this year went to Chrome book carts in every classroom at grades 3 through 12, and at kindergarten through second grade, we’ve got iPad carts in every classroom,” she said. “There are digital resources that are  available.”

Wood said the grant provides support for literacy instruction, but its overall goal for all of the schools involved is to increase student literacy through effective teaching techniques. 

“Why we have the literacy coaches and stuff is to sharpen up on some of our teachers’ literacy instruction,” she said.

Wood said district officials will likely look at some of the programming and curriculum USD 483 has in place, but she does not see big changes for that with the grant.

“It’s mainly just working with teachers so they have some re-enforcements and support,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to be buying a new reading series or anything like that. We haven’t come to that point to talk about in our discussion for what we want to see happen with this, but I think our target and our focus, and that’s for all the schools in the consortium, is to just support teachers and their efforts in teaching language acquisition, reading, writing, all of those things that make a literate citizen.”

LINK will help schools meet the Kansas State Board of Education’s vision for education – “Kansas leads the world in the success of each student.”

“It’s just kind of a good way to re-enforce some of the good things that we already have in place,” Wood said.

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