Putting a sharp focus on literacy

By Dick Maloney

CLERMONT COUNTY, OH (January 19, 2021) – Schools across the nation have been forced to reset and rethink their learning models since March 2020.  Clermont Northeastern Middle School has embraced that opportunity to sharpen its focus on literacy.

The Middle School is the third district building to be awarded a grant from the state’s Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant program. CNE’s high school and elementary school received similar grants last summer. The middle school will receive $525,000 over five years.

Principal Laura Nazzarine said the school will add a part-time literacy specialist, part-time paraprofessional to focus on working in literacy groups and a literacy family engagement coach for parents and the community. The grant will also be used to build a literacy grade-level team of experts through professional development; work with a literacy specialist through Hamilton County Education Service Center on ongoing professional development opportunities, and buy researched-based literacy materials to be used in instructional strategies classes such as REWARDS, LETRS and Language LIVE).

The district was one of the smallest in the state to be chosen for the grants. While the Middle School was bypassed in the first round, administrators believed having the program at the Elementary and High School levels would benefit the Middle School because of the proximity of the campuses and the collaboration between leadership teams. Nazzarine said a team of Middle School and district staff worked on the grant proposal.

“Although 2020 was a challenging time for all of us, it gave us the opportunity to reflect, assess and plot our course for the future,” Nazzarine said. “It truly was a team effort, and I for one am so grateful to work with such outstanding people who truly put our students first. 2021 is here and we are so excited to begin this new chapter in our literacy department.”

The grant will help build on work already underway at the Middle School, Nazzarine said.

“The awesome parallel that the Middle School has with these goals is that we have been working on building vocabulary content and our cross-curricular instruction across all grade levels and core classes. CNE Middle School teachers meet every Thursday to have these discussions as they plan for the following week and discuss student concerns,” she said.

T.J. Glassmeyer. Principal, CNE High School (Provided)

According to data its original application, 67 percent of 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.

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. As the middle school is the bridge between the two, success will be measured by the number of eighth-graders who meet or exceed proficiency on the State of Ohio ELA Air Assessment.

“One thing we assume when kids come to high school is that they can read. That doesn’t always happen, of course,” High School Principal T.J. Glassmeyer said last summer.

Beyond improving literacy, CNE wants to position itself as a leader, or mentor, for districts that did not win the grant, Nazzarine said.

“It will be our job to help build capacity in state literacy as a mentor after we have finished the process. We could be chosen as a model site out of 64 sites in the state of Ohio,” she said. “To be chosen as a model site, we will need to show proof of performance through data and literacy foundation building in our (grades) six-to-eight programming.  The state will look to our leadership team to provide evidence-based models that other districts can adopt and implement in their own schools.”

CNE Academic Team (File)

National education leaders will also be monitoring CNE’s progress. Representatives from the United States Department of Education will interview CNE team members regarding their process and materials used, as well as collecting data. CNE team members will be part of the Departments of Literacy Academy.

“We will attend several sessions to help guide us through this process and to build our literacy plan to implement and assess our work in this grant,” Nazzarine said. “Ultimately, it is our goal to be professional presenters.”

“We will also share our Rockets’ performance on the Ohio State AIR Assessment 6-8. We have had teachers present at the state level for math and would like to add literacy to our list of accomplishments.”

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.