Literacy grant aims to boost scores

Niles to use money for teacher professional development

060518...R NILES READ 4...Niles...06-05-18...Niles Intermediate School 3rd grade teacher Nicole Pantelis, 3rd from left, teaches a summer reading class...by R. Michael Semple

NILES — School district officials hope a $600,000 federal grant will boost student literacy and ultimately state test scores.

Niles City Schools is the only individual district in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties to receive the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant through the Ohio Department of Education.

The Trumbull County Educational Service Center applied for the money as a consortium with the Joseph Badger, Lakeview, Lordstown, Newton Falls, Southington and Weathersfield Local school districts and received $1.2 million.

Niles City Schools will divide its money among grades 6-12 in the middle and high schools. The grant is a real win because the district is already involved in a pilot program with the state on early literacy initiatives at the elementary level, said high school Principal Tracie Parry.

“We’re assuming because we already have an initiative going, that’s why we were given the opportunity to continue this through our middle and high schools,” Parry said.

The goal is to use the funds to help teachers identify students at higher grade levels who may be struggling to read and as a result, struggling to turn in assignments or take tests.

“We’re really excited because as a high school teacher, you don’t really have the opportunity to tackle literacy,” said Parry, a former English teacher.

“We don’t teach kids to read at this level. We have kids coming in and out of the district all the time who might not have the skills they should.”

Teaching a student to read can prove difficult at the middle and high school level, Parry said, because teachers might not have the skills like those on the elementary level do. At higher grade levels, students are given chapters to read and assignments to complete, Niles McKinley High School assistant principal Steve Rovnak said, and they are at a big disadvantage if they struggle to read.

“Obviously we want to see test scores rise and for students to perform well,” Parry said. “But we also want them to be ready for college, the workforce or whatever they plan to do after high school.”

The grant will be spent on teacher professional development, but rather than sending teachers off somewhere for courses or conferences, Niles City Schools will bring a team of professionals in to work on literacy initiatives. For the first year, an outside firm will have representatives at the middle and high school once per week to work with teachers, strategize and analyze test scores and data, Parry said.

After the team leaves, the goal is to have teachers trained enough so that literacy initiatives and professional development can be carried on in-house.

“We are bringing in people to train certain members of our staff so that when the three years are up and this money is gone, we’ll have people on staff who can provide literacy training,” Rovnak said. “Instead of buying a program, book or some technology that can become outdated, we went with professional development for teachers so they can pass on that knowledge. Once the money is gone, we can still have success and teach the kids the literacy skills they need year in and year out on a daily basis to help them succeed in life. “

According to the Ohio Department of Education, 110 individual and consortium applications representing 208 entities sought the grant money. The state awarded a total of $33 million to 46 school districts and consortiums of districts.

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