Reading remains top priority at CNE Elementary

By Dick Maloney

The principal of Clermont Northeastern Elementary School, Mrs. Tonya Schmidt, wants parents to know that, in spite of the distractions of the last 18 months, her staff has not lost its focus on the basics – and parent input is more important than ever.

“We want them to know they have a voice, I think that's really important and we need their feedback,” Schmidt said. She, along with school psychologist Amy Ellis and reading specialist Trina Farrell, are part of the school’s Reading Team, which coordinates the effort to implement the million-dollar literacy grant CNE earned last year. The disruptions of 2020 and 2021 have had a negative impact on progress, but not on the desire to ensure that all CNE Elementary students leave the elementary school with the literacy skills they need.

“This year we're finally able to take full advantage of the resources that the grant brought us,” Schmidt said. “Part of that is by adding staff, adding materials, and just really refining the way that we go about making decisions about what kind of support students need in specialized skills groups, in addition to the changes that we've made in our core instruction.”

Understanding the words on a piece of paper, in a book or on a computer screen, is the destination. Determining the best way to get a student to that point is the roadmap, and there are numerous markers along the way. Ellis is one of the people who help set the course for the elementary, by analyzing the abundance of reading data that the team uses to make decisions about next steps for individual students as well as grade levels as a whole.

CNE’s team charts the progress of students through a benchmarking system known as Acadience – an updated version of DIBELS, which stands for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. “This data gives us kind of a snapshot about which kids are on target, which kids need a little bit more support and then which kids are in need of the most intensive reading support and interventions,” Ellis said.

The district also uses MAP – Measures of Academic Progress – which Ellis described as more of an assessment of comprehension, for students in grades two through five. Once this data is collected, students are placed into 30-minute skills groups based on their need.  Students also receive a minimum of 40-minute phonics lessons each day as part of the 90-minute reading block. 

Ellis said the data shows the school staff has been able to keep momentum, despite the periodic shutdowns during the 2020-2021 year. Farrell said protecting instruction is a high priority for the school.

“It has been very clear to everybody in this building that as much instruction as we can provide the kids that are here, that's our goal,” she said. The school has almost doubled its number of reading specialists, to five, thanks to the grant.

Another initiative that Schmidt hopes that the school can resume is it’s Ready Rockets events, school-based family engagement activities. 

“The biggest goal with Ready Rocket events is family engagement, with the help of our PTO, so it's a collaboration between school staff, our literacy team, and our PTO. The big goal is to find that sweet spot- a balance between engaging academic activities (where we are teaching our families how to help their children become better readers), and then just family fun that makes everybody want to come out and participate,” Schmidt said.

Grant funding lets the school provide materials for parents to take home and repeat reading activities with their children.

“The other thing that we're going to do, which is a recommendation from our parents that are involved in family engagement, is create videos where parents are actually modeling what parents can do at home to teach a specific reading skill, so we're super excited that we've got parents that are willing to do that, and then also that we can provide the first-hand training to other parents,” Schmidt said. 

Community groups such as churches, Clermont County Library and Rotary clubs, are assisting the effort. Someone has even funded a petting zoo for the school to use at an upcoming event, Schmidt said.

Schmidt encourages parents and others interested in the program to visit the school website, (, 

“I just want our community to know that we have absolutely not lost our focus here, we understand what our job is,” she said. “We also understand that we have to navigate the current challenges, but we are not losing sight of our mission and we're not changing our goals.”

As one of only 14 elementary schools in the state to receive the literacy grant, CNE’s ultimate goal is to be a model district in Ohio.

“I believe that once everything is up and running and we have kind of a semi-typical year, people will want to come to CNE and learn what we've been doing that has positively impacted our students’ reading,” Ellis said. “We are leading the way for other schools.  We’ve had the knowledge and desire, the grant provided the resources we needed for the journey.”