cfe classroom

By Deandra Owens | Director of Elementary and Title 1

Pender County is following in the footsteps taken by the North Carolina General Assembly and the Department of Public Instruction to increase literacy proficiency.

In March of 2021, Senate Bill 387, the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021 was passed to modify the implementation of the North Carolina Read To Achieve Program and increase state-wide reading proficiency by the third grade. This provided the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction with a framework to ensure quality professional learning for Pre-K through fifth grade. Furthermore, it supplied a framework of expectations for core and supplemental programs that provide systematic and explicit instruction for all school districts.

In the 2022-2023 school year, Pender County Schools stepped into year one of a two-year professional learning commitment that is grounded in the researched based practices of the Science of Reading. This is a growing body of research that highlights the difficulty of learning to read for our students. While learning the spoken language is a natural process, the complexity of decoding and understanding the written word is not. The research does show that for students to be successful teachers must have rigorous and effective programs that are implemented with skill and fidelity. This instruction produces a reader that is fluent in both word recognition and language comprehension. 

Year one of the two-year professional learning focused on the foundational reading skills of phonemic awareness and phonics for Pre-K through third grade. Pender County showed its commitment to supporting teachers with the adoption of strong core curriculums, Heggerty, Fundations, and Geodes. These programs were needed to provide rigor and to fully implement the researched based skills and strategies. Analyzing our middle-of-the-year data we are excited about the gains in student achievement measured by state-required benchmarks. Student growth validates the effort of our teachers to professional learning and the effectiveness of the programs and resources provided by our district.

Taking the next step to fully implement the expectations of NC Senate Bill 387, teachers will expand the emphasis beyond the foundational skills and move into building reading knowledge in Pre-K through fifth grade. This is the process of applying the foundational skills to build vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, which allows the student to interact with increasingly complex texts. Included in this process is strengthening readers through the writing process so they may further develop strong reading skills.

It is imperative that we adopt a strong core curriculum that builds upon the foundational skills established through Heggerty, Fundations, and Geodes. The curriculum must meet the needs of both our teachers and students. Teachers need materials that support instructional routines with embedded research-based approaches and strategies. Students need engaging and rigorous complex texts that are aligned with North Carolina standards that deepen cross-curricular knowledge in such areas as Science and Social Studies.

The steps Pender County is taking to equip our students to be great readers are far beyond the expectations of North Carolina Senate Bill 387 and the Department of Public Instruction. Our district is committed to adopting a core literacy curriculum that aligns with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, empowers teachers with researched based resources, and equips students with a strong knowledge base in reading and writing for all content areas. This strong emphasis will allow our students to develop the seven qualities outlined in the North Carolina Portrait of a Graduate which are adaptability, communication, empathy, collaboration, critical thinking, learner’s mindset, and personal responsibility. Building these qualities will promote the district’s vision of classrooms to careers and support the growth and advancement of our students, schools, and our community.