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State grants position CNE to be a leader in literacy
Dick Maloney
Wednesday, August 12, 2020

State grants position CNE to be a leader in literacy

By Dick Maloney

There is more than one way to read, but the ability to read is the fundamental and foundational skill upon which all learning is built.

Clermont Northeastern School District wants to be a leader in the effort to build literacy, and is well-positioned to do that after being awarded two grants from the State of Ohio.

Specifically, CNE will receive $1,575,000 over four years - $1,050,000 for the elementary school and $525,000 for the high school – from the Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant program. This is the first year for the program, and CNE received two of the 46 total grants awarded. The district was one of the smallest in the state to be chosen. CNE also applied for a grant for the Middle School, but was not awarded that one. However, administrators believe having the program at the Elementary and High School levels will benefit the Middle School because of the proximity of the campuses and the collaboration between leadership teams.

Tony Schmidt, principal of CNE Elementary and a member of the District Implementation Team, said the grant will be critical for her school.

“Our data has shown over time that our younger kids are coming in lacking the necessary language and literacy skills they need at the beginning of Kindergarten. Furthermore, we have students at all grade levels who are not reading as they should be and writing the grant allowed us to identify what is leading to some of this,” Schmidt said. Those challenges, which the grant will help alleviate, include incorporating some of the latest research into classroom instruction, new classroom materials, and fortifying intervention.

According to its application, 67 percent if students entering Kindergarten in the CNE district in 2019 (72 students) were “significantly deficient in language and literacy skills” – that’s a rate almost double the state average of 38 percent.

Training will be at the core of the first phase of the grant. The district will contract with trainers to guide teachers and staff through various modules (four altogether).

“We’ll start with outside experts, obviously, but the goal is to create our own internal experts as teachers, so then they can continue to work and help it grow,” CNE High School Principal T.J. Glassmeyer said.

“One thing we assume when kids come to high school is that they can read. That doesn’t always happen, of course,” Glassmeyer said. “We’re going to be able to put an intervention in place to help those students who aren’t where they need to be with reading, but then we’re also going to focus on teaching kids how to read differently for fiction and for pleasure than you do for non-fiction or a textbook. You have to approach science a little differently than you do math or history, so through this we should be able to give those kids the skills they should need.”

Elementary School psychologist Amy Ellis helped lead the application process, which included filing an intention to apply. The district, which uses a grant writer based in New York, decided to stay in-house.

“Being awarded this grant is a reflection of all the hard work that we have been doing already in the district. We had positioned ourselves to use the funds from this grant to take the next steps toward being a model district,” Ellis said.

The state guidelines were very specific, and the district has little to no leeway is how it spends the money. Superintendent Michael Brandt said this was one the first grants he’s seen where a district had to demonstrate capacity before it was permitted to apply.

Finalists participated in an online meeting during which state officials went over the application and asked for clarification of certain points and line items in the proposal. If a district does not follow it submitted plan, the state can rescind the grant.

CNE is planning to start the school year with five-day a week in-person classes Aug. 24, but is also offering a remote learning option. Schmidt said the training portion of the literacy grant work can be done virtually if necessary.

Another portion of the grant will allow in-coming Kindergarteners to be connected with a teacher from the school district. This will allow parents to learn some of the things that they can do to help their students be prepared for Kindergarten as well as receive other types of support from that person. 

Engaging family members is crucial to the success of the plan. Schmidt wants to reach out to families before students start Kindergarten, through the “Ready Rockets” events, giving incoming Kindergarteners devices to access materials online, and giving parents necessary resources.

“The good news is that this part of the grant can still happen. We can get started with our pre-Kindergarten families at CNE whether or not we’re virtual. It won’t look exactly the same, but we can do some of that early connection and education,” Ellis said.

“I’m excited to see the results of this portion of the grant. This allows us to begin to work with kids at the earliest point when they are ready to learn the most. We think this has the potential of making CNE a district of choice. Why wouldn’t parents across the county want to be a part of this program that will give their kids an early advantage in building language and literacy skills? It will also make the transition to kindergarten easier for parents,” Schmidt said.

How will they know the program is working? In the younger grades, there are specific benchmarks measured through assessment that take place three times a year. At the high school level, a rise in state scores will provide a good indicator of progress.

CNE will receive $628,053 in year one of the grant, and then $315,648 in each of the next three years.