Literacy Leaders: Hard Work Pays Off For FCS Elementary Schools
"The work that we're doing is really working. It's meeting the kids where they need to be met."
Stanetress Evans, principal of Mary M. Bethune Elementary School, sums up an accolade for Fulton County Schools (FCS). Twenty-two FCS elementary schools, including Bethune Elementary, were recently recognized by the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) as "Literacy Leaders."
The honor puts the spotlight on schools with exceptional achievement or growth in third-grade English Language Arts (ELA) scores on the Georgia Milestones. FCS has more schools on the list than any other district in the state.
Lisa Garosi, principal of Cogburn Woods Elementary School, says becoming a Literacy Leader is a "collective commitment." Cogburn Woods is also on the list of Literacy Leaders.
"We have conversations with each other about what's working," Principal Garosi says. "What could we be doing? How can we support our kids better?"
That daily conversation is a central focus of the "Every Child Reads" literacy campaign, launched in 2021.
"We are excited to see the 'Every Child Reads' literacy campaign is positively impacting all students in FCS," says FCS Chief of Staff Cliff Jones.
The focus on literacy was spearheaded by FCS Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney and includes intensive training on the professional learning program, "Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling," or LETRS.
One thing ensuring everyone from administration to the classroom was invested in its success, was that everyone knew how to implement LETRS.
"It was extremely strategic," says Dr. Shannon Kersey, FCS assistant superintendent of Learning and Teaching. Administrative leaders, including Dr. Looney, went through LETRS training before it was introduced in classrooms.
"Dr. Looney realized that he was bringing in the science of reading," Dr. Kersey says. She says this involved "unlearning" literacy techniques many educators had used up until that point. LETRS lays out specific instructions to use across the board, with an emphasis on phonics.
As part of "Every Child Reads," LETRS makes it a point to uncover learning gaps and remedy those by the third grade. Principal Evans and Principal Garosi agree it is a crucial time in literacy development.
"If that foundation isn't there, it's going to be a struggle," says Evans.
Overcoming that struggle is tailored to the needs of each classroom. Small groups play a big role in fostering literacy growth and a lifetime love of reading.
Students can choose books that they like and enjoy, says Evans. "It's really reading for the love of reading at the level they know they can be successful."
Garosi adds, "I'm a firm believer that small group instruction grows our kids."
"Every Child Reads" also placed a literacy coach in every FCS elementary school. The literacy coach works one-on-one with teachers and within their classrooms as a source of support.
Dr. Kersey calls the position a "tremendous resource," and says the coaches are a "key component" of literacy growth for FCS.
"My literacy coach is phenomenal," says Evans. She says the coaches give teachers feedback on a continual basis. Garosi saw so much success with the literacy coach at Cogburn Woods Elementary, that she used extra funding for a flex position to hire another.
Dr. Kersey says schools are implementing the strategies laid out by the literacy initiative while making sure to "foster a love of reading."
The twenty-two schools recognized by the GaDOE as literacy leaders can be found here.