How do we maximize and accelerate opportunities for literacy learning, especially for our students who are below grade level?” It’s a guiding question that helps Kimberly Duran and her fellow teachers focus their efforts on what will make the most impact for their students. In addition to her role as the STEM SmartLab facilitator at William (Bill) Roberts ECE-8 School, Kimberly is also the early literacy specialist, a new role that was created to provide ongoing, school-based professional learning and support as part of the Early Literacy Plan. Kim participated in the Foundations of Early Literacy training over the summer along with more than 2,400 other educators. She described the experience saying, “[Deputy Superintendent] Susana [Cordova] was very clear about the what and why of the training, explaining that although schools are very different across the district, we needed to level the playing field and ensure we all had a common understanding of literacy.”
Bill Roberts is one of the higher-performing schools in the district. Kimberly believes, “Whether you are a high-performing or low-performing school, the better trained a teacher is, the more opportunities students have to succeed, and every child deserves access to solid instruction.” As the early literacy specialist, it is Kimberly’s job to support her fellow teachers in providing that solid instruction.
Training Her Fellow Teachers in Early Literacy
Each month, Kimberly attends training provided by the district’s literacy department; she then delivers that training to educators in her school. The monthly training and support she provides typically includes helping with the practical application of newly learned content, lesson planning and using literacy data to inform instruction. Kimberly appreciates that the training allows for differentiation: “If you know your staff well, you can take the parts that work and supplement in a way that makes sense for them and their students.”
She also works with grade-level teams to provide an additional two hours of professional learning. Part of the DPS Early Literacy Plan includes an investment that allows for teachers to get paid for the time they spend outside of regular work hours to engage in early literacy professional learning.
One of the things Kimberly discovered at Bill Roberts was that teachers were not using the same word lists across grade levels, which made it difficult for teachers to accurately compare student growth. “We needed more vertical alignment and articulation across grade levels. We want our students to be familiar with the resources we are using so we are talking the same language,” she explained. By collaborating across grade levels, they are aiming to accelerate learning for students, particularly those who are below grade level.
Schoolwide Focus on Culture, and a Community Garden
Bill Roberts’ schoolwide focus on culture has also contributed to a more collaborative environment. Kim shared, “Our goal is to become a blue school [on the School Performance Framework]; we’ve been a green school for a long time.” Over the last few years, the staff has worked with the Culture, Equity and Leadership Team (CELT) to identify and understand inequities and biases each person brings to the table. They’ve also carved out time during meetings just to focus on culture.
When asked what makes Bill Roberts special, Kimberly described the variety of opportunities that students have to explore and learn. “We do a good job of looking at the whole child. We are fortunate to be able to expose our students to a variety of opportunities and avenues for them to explore their unique gifts and talents that are not strictly academic in nature.” For Kimberly, that comes in the form of a community garden that she helped launch. With the help of a local donor, they’ve been able to expand the garden so each grade has a bed for which they are responsible.