Community, faith leaders come together at forum to promote literacy

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 26, 2014

Literacy is the focus of the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s 2014-17 strategic plan, and Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody asked for help at the Literacy Summit Friday.
“We need 100 business and faith-based organizations to open homework centers,” she told the group of roughly 150 community, business and faith-based leaders at the community forum.
Moody hopes opening these homework centers, which will provide Internet access and tutoring to students who need it, will help turn the tide of the district’s struggling reading scores.
Data over the past four years is difficult to pinpoint, primarily because of the new tests and proficiency levels that have been implemented over the past two years.
Last year, only 52.1 percent of the district’s third graders were reading at or above grade level. That number is an improvement over the 38.3 percent proficiency during the 2012-13 school year. Scores were at 60.7 and 61.7 the two years before.
Part of the reason for the drastic drop between scores in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years was a new test. In between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, the state implemented a five-step proficiency scale from its initial four-step scale, allowing more students to pass the test.
Regardless of the inconsistencies over the past four years, Moody said the district’s scores were unacceptable.
“They have to have more time and more help, “ she said. “It’s just that simple.”
These issues have been addressed on a curriculum level through the district’s new literacy framework, which changes the way Rowan-Salisbury schools teach reading.
“It’s about reading, writing and speaking,” Moody said.
Elementary classes are required to teach a 120 to 150 minute literacy block without interruptions each day, and the district’s 20 elementary schools are beginning the process of streamlining their reading curriculums. Literacy coaches have been hired at most of the district’s schools to train teachers to teach reading and literacy effectively.
Moody said literacy is closely tied to poverty.
“Poverty matters when it comes to reading,” she added.
Moody presented a heat map, showing where the county’s lowest and highest third grade reading scores are located in the county based on zip code, and then she cross-referenced those scores with the county’s poverty rates.
Eighteen zip codes and 1,423 students’ test scores were used to analyze the data – 747, or 52 percent of those students’ reading test scores were proficient.
Based on zip codes, the district’s achievement rates ranged from 83 percent to 26 percent.
A tiny pocket in the heart of Salisbury, near the hospital and country club, was the only portion of the county that scored 83 percent proficient.
Moody said the high level of achievement was to be expected in an area with those demographics.
Zip codes covering the Gold Hill, Spencer and East Spencer saw the county’s lowest scores, between 26 and 32 percent.
More than half of the zip codes represented in Rowan County had a 50 percent or less pass rate.
Seven of the 10 zip codes where that was the case have child poverty rates over 25 percent.
Having children who can read is “so important to the overall economy,” Spalding said.
It’s a community issue, Moody said.
There are already 20 homework centers either in operation or in the process of opening. They are located at local libraries, Rowan Helping Ministries, school media centers, churches and community centers.
Karen Alexander, who has already begun her own homework center at the Heritage Room in downtown Salisbury, explained the basic qualification for a homework center.
They must have Wi-Fi, regular volunteers and furniture conducive for children to do their homework. Each site must have liability insurance, and background checks are highly suggested for all volunteers. The homework centers will also provide refreshments for the students.
The school district will use Title I funds to hire teachers part-time after school to coach the volunteers on how to tutor.
At the end of the meeting, attendees broke into groups discussing their ideas and questions about the process. The key issues brought up were the infrastructure, bridging the gap between pre-kindergarten and elementary, identifying key leaders in targeted communities, building trust, where to find resources, outreach, setting up a center, using retired volunteers and how to plan effectively.