Educators from four school districts and the Alabama Reading Initiative visited Inverness Elementary School on October 24 to see instructional practices that led to Shelby County Schools being named a Science of Reading Spotlight District by the Alabama Department of Education this year.
The Alabama Science of Reading Spotlight distinction was awarded to schools and school districts for demonstrating a strong commitment to foundational literacy for students in early elementary grades. Shelby County Schools and Cullman City Schools were the only two districts recognized by the Alabama State Department of Education with this distinction. The ALSDE also recognized 12 individual schools from across the state. Shelby County Schools was specifically spotlighted for having district leaders who have created structures that prioritize professional learning in the science of reading and foster the principal-coach partnership.
As part of the recognition, the award-winning schools and school districts are asked to host visits to share their best practices. Inverness Elementary hosted Talladega City Schools, Calhoun County Schools, Chilton County Schools, and Pike Road City Schools. Jodie Lawley, the Regional Literacy Leadership Specialist for Region 7 with the Alabama Reading Initiative helped coordinate the visit and participated in the presentation.
Lawley shared with attendees that The Science of Reading Spotlight recognizes districts and schools that are implementing steps to improve reading proficiency in kindergarten through third grade and ensure students read at or above grade level by the end of third grade, as outlined by the Alabama Literacy Act. The Science of Reading Spotlight (SoRS) schools were also recognized for prioritizing that K-3 faculty participated in Science of Reading training, such as Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS), and for showing student progress in reading achievement as evidenced by third-grade reading outcome data between 2019 and 2022.
Amanda Hamm, principal at Inverness Elementary, shared the school’s demographics with the group and how the diversity of her student population, which includes students who speak 22 different languages, impacts how teachers approach teaching literacy. She also shared that the entire IES faculty is going through LETRS training, with a large majority of her teachers having mostly completed it. In Shelby County, all elementary K-5 teachers, special education teachers, gifted resource teachers, and English Language teachers are going through LETRS training. Administrators went through the LETRS training for administrators last year.
The participants rotated through three classrooms as part of their visit. The classrooms included Mrs. Jackie Degan’s first-grade class, Mrs. Mauri Crisler’s second-grade class, and Mrs. Lacie Free’s third-grade class. Following the visits, participants came back together to debrief and discuss their observations.
The group shared they noticed that students had lots of opportunities to respond, both during small group and whole group lessons. They also noted that there were multi-sensory methods being used to teach phonemic awareness, sight words, and vocabulary. Small group work was also purposeful and included the student’s learning targets.
Dr. Lynn Carroll, Deputy Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, noted that she was pleased to see the integration of other subjects, such as science and social studies, being incorporated into the English Language Arts (ELA lessons).