By BENJAMIN KIBBEY
The Western News
Libby and Troy Schools plan to create long-term programs to help students move seamlessly between subjects, grades and even school districts with help from recently awarded grants.
Both school districts were recently announced as recipients of Montana Comprehensive Literacy Project grants from the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
Grant awards are based on enrollment, OPI Director of Communications Dylan Klapmeier said via email. The money will average $300,000 per year over three years for Troy and $450,000 per year for Libby.
The grant program is geared toward schools that serve a high percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged or disabled. However, student need alone is not enough to receive the grant.
The application process also requires school systems to create a “high-quality plan for improving literacy scores from age 4 to grade 12, with special attention given to transitions between age 4 to kindergarten, elementary to middle school, and middle to high school,” according to an Office of Public Instruction news release.
Both schools will use the grant money to develop and implement systems that will touch every aspect of how children learn.
The goal is a single approach to literacy from the beginning of a child’s schooling through to the end of high school, said Libby Middle/High School Principal Ruth Rogers. The single system will also span different subject areas.
“When they have a writing assignment in history, the language and the understanding will be the same in that class as it will be if they do a writing assignment in health class — or in the elementary,” said Libby K-12 Schools Superintendent Craig Barringer.
“So, we can go deeper into our subject matter, without having to recreate the process with every teacher,” Rogers said.
This grant will build on the existing Roots and Wings program at Libby schools, which has similar aspects, said Libby Elementary School Assistant Principal Kaide Dodson.
The Troy grant proposal was written to focus on disciplinary literacy and writing, said W.F. Elementary School Principal Diane Rewerts.
“Kids in shop would be learning reading strategies for reading technical material, and would be learning technical writing,” she said. “So much of what we do is based on kids being readers all the way across the spectrum.”
In addition, Troy Schools hope to use some of the money to promote a community-wide program that gives books to families to encourage reading at home, said Troy Public Schools Superintendent Jacob Francom.
Both schools will develop programs that touch students at all grade levels and follow them through their academic careers, even if they move from one school district to the other.
“We’ll still probably have different reading curriculums, but all the strategies that are being used will be more universal,” Rewarts said.
Coaching for success
As part of the grant program and as part of the strategy shared by both Libby and Troy, the schools will have instructional coaches and consultants who work with the teachers directly.
“Research is showing that the best thing you can do to help a classroom teacher is to have instructional coaches there to help them,” Barringer said.
Libby expects to have one coach for the elementary school and one for the middle/high school, said Libby Special Services/Curriculum Director Scott Beagle.
Though the specifics aren’t finalized, Barringer and Francom said Troy and Libby plan to collaborate on professional development.
The cooperation between districts is building on an existing foundation, as the schools have cooperated on professional development in past years, Barringer said.
“We didn’t write the grant with Libby, but we considered each other when we wrote our grants,” Rewerts said.
That collaboration also means that teachers in the separate school districts will be able to more easily collaborate with teachers in the other district, Rewerts said. For Troy teachers, who have fewer peers in their subject to collaborate with, that will be an added benefit.
Setting the strategy
In addition to carrying the new program on through coaches and mentoring, Libby Schools will have a document they can refer to as new teachers are hired to help keep everyone on the same page, Rogers said.
“We have our curriculum, but this is our instructional strategy,” she said.
The document will also serve as a kind of touch-stone, said Libby Middle/High School Assistant Principal Jim Germany.
“You can give (teachers) a concept, but it you’re not an English Teacher and you don’t teach writing on a regular basis, they may be doing some of the same things, but they don’t have that common language,” he said.
As a result, from taking notes to outlining to how questions are written on tests, teachers can refer back to the document for approaches that students will already be familiar with.
For the students, everything from class to class and from grade to grade will follow the same system, both in how they are presented prompts and information and in how they respond to them.
“The big thing in sustainability is that we continue to focus, and that we don’t lose sight of it,” Germany said.
That is one reason having the strategy is important, he said. Even if money for coaches or other assistance isn’t there in the future, the schools will still have the strategy document as a foundation to work from.
“We should be able to take it, as a staff, and run with it once it’s there,” he said.
Like Libby, Troy has a base document to help maintain continuity as new teachers enter the school district, Rewerts said. The new systems developed under the grant will become part of that binder of training.
Beyond the economics of the schools cooperating on their programs, having shared strategies has an added benefit for students dealing with an entirely different kind of transition.
“We have about 10 to 12 percent of our kids go back and forth between here and Troy,” Barringer said.
Those percentages aren’t commuters, but students whose living situations have them switching school districts due to other changes in their lives and families.
From changes in their families to problems finding housing, the children who are moving back and forth already have other disruption in their lives, Rewerts said. By having familiar systems in the two schools, the students have one less adjustment to make.
“Working with Troy on that professional development will help even create a common language between the districts,” Barringer said. “So these kids’ families that move back and forth, the expectations will be very similar from Libby to Troy.”
“We want to help those kids transition better,” Rewerts said. “We’re going to use the same assessments, the same shared data — because we’re going to upgrade our assessment system with this grant too.”
When children move a lot, every school has a different curriculum, leaving potential holes in their education, she said.
“We’re just hoping to make that transition smoother, and also to keep close tabs on the kids, and give them the support they need,” she said.