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Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association

Kristen Stringfellow Featured in School Superintendent's Insider

23 May 2017 1:46 PM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)

Reading partnership strengthens student, staff development

Approximately two-thirds of fourth-grade students read at or below the basic level of competency, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

By partnering with higher education institutions, schools can enhance elementary reading initiatives and set students on a higher reading plane.

Kristen Stringfellow,superintendent of the South Kingston (R.I.) School District, embraced
a partnership with Columbia University’s Reading and Writing Project to improve K-8 reading outcomes.  After adopting the program,all four elementary schools in South Kingston
scored in the upper 5 percent of Rhode Island elementary schools in English Language Arts. “In my former district, we were going through a significant change in our reading curriculum and one of the providers we found was Columbia University,”she said. “When I came to South Kingston, there wasn’t a reading curriculum in place.”During Stringfellow’s first few months as superintendent, she visited classrooms and engaged her elementary principals
for an in-service day. What she quickly realized was that the district had a potpourri of reading programs.
“I asked the principals how they can help teachers commonly plan together, and also about the strategies that students are using to read with comprehension and fluency,” Stringfellow said. “It took that understanding of what we didn’t have to figure out what we needed. We
looked at several different programs and let our principals and teachers figure out what matched our needs to bring children to higher levels of reading success.”
One of the elementary schools in South Kingston was chosen to pilot the Columbia University reading program, with the district providing professional development and support through reading coaches.  “We capitalized on our previous experience with the
program and the teachers helped make it flourish,”Stringfellow said. “We now have the Columbia University reading and writing program in grades K-8.
It’s taken several years to work through the grade levels, particularly in middle school where we’ve had to make adaptations because of the schedule.”Stringfellow provided the following tips on reading initiatives:

• Get staff on board. “Staff had been waiting for a
reading program that worked,” Stringfellow said. “At
the outset, they didn’t have authentic literature in the
classroom because we had funding challenges to purchase
books to build classroom libraries. We altered
some of our investments to invest more in libraries and
pulled back on investments in copying machines and
workbooks.” She noted that one of the problem areas
was having substitute teachers who were unfamiliar
with the structure of a mini-lesson and reading logs. As
such, the district hired permanent substitute teachers
in each building who can attend the training with their
permanent teaching colleagues, Stringfellow said.

• Provide professional development. During the
summer, many of the teachers in the district visit
Columbia University and hear from authors. “Teachers-
in-residence at Columbia University demonstrate
model lessons for the staff for two- to three-day intervals
several times a year,” Stringfellow said. “The staff
member then discusses the lesson and encourages
participation. There is a lot of professional dialogue
among teachers and they have close relationships
with the staff developers from Columbia.”

• See model programs. Visit districts that have
implemented successful reading programs. Talk to
the teachers and administrators who’ve experienced
success. “If you have high staff turnover, it will be
more difficult because the training takes a couple of
years,” Stringfellow said. “You need to have principals
who are the lead learners — and the district leader
has to embrace the program as the lead learner.”
Develop rapport with peers in other districts to wade
through stumbling blocks.

• Involve parents. Focus on teaching parents
what to do when children come home. Stringfellow
said it’s important for children to find a book that
is right for their reading level. “To be a great reader,
you have to read a lot,” she said. “We have embedded
time in the school day where children can build their
reading stamina. It’s different from what parents
previously knew — and that takes coaching and
professional learning for parents.”

• Assess partnership success. Determine success
by student and teacher engagement. “Our teachers
are continually eager to leave their home state and
visit Columbia University to learn as much as they
can about the program,” Stringfellow said. “That
tells me that the teachers view the program as vitally
important to the child’s success. The goal is for
our teachers to build their professional network to
extend and expand the program.”
Email Stringfellow at


© 2017 LRP Publications - Reproduction Prohibited Vol. 20, Iss. 1


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