Pequot Lakes School District is Moving Forward in Both Literacy and Leadership
Rick Linnell, Superintendent, Allison Reigel, Primary Literacy Coordinator/1st Grade Teacher, and Amy LaBarre, Principal of Curriculum and Assessment, Pequot Lakes Schools District, MN
Mr. Rick Linnell joined Pequot Lakes School District in 2006 as their new Superintendent with an initial goal to improve early literacy. He soon learned that this goal would be expanded to include a completely new way of leading, teaching, and learning.
Superintendent Linnell noted, “Both the research and my experience supports early literacy as one of the keys for the success of our students. During my time in Pequot Lakes I have enjoyed attending ‘Mom’s Day Out’ at our local medical center to speak about the importance of parent’s reading to their children from birth. So when I started in Pequot Lakes my first two goals were to implement all day every day kindergarten (Pequot had previously only offered a half time program) and to incorporate a two-hour literacy block in the early grades.”
At the same time, Superintendent Linnell learned his staff had been investigating a new early literacy program from Ohio State called The Literacy Collaborative, designed to improve the reading, writing and language skills of elementary children. This researched-based school reform model supports strong leadership, coaching, collaboration, and learning for teachers. It also includes an expanded literacy time, paralleling one of Superintendent Linnell’s initial goals.
Superintendent Linnell was a little apprehensive to jump into a new model that would bring major changes to the district so early in his tenure, but he gave the team the authority to research the options for improving literacy. They came back to him 100% behind the idea of implementing this new school improvement program. Mr. Linnell understood that a common vision and goals are important for successful school reform and soon both he and the School Board gave approval to the plan.
Allison Reigel is now the literacy coordinator for the Kindergarten through second grade program. She teaches half time and the rest of her day is given over to learning and coaching. “I believe ongoing professional development is a key reason for the success we are seeing in literacy. Now we have continuous professional development for all of our teachers in addition to the coaching,” said Reigel. “We all speak the same language and there is consistency in both language and teaching between the classroom, small groups and our intensive interventions.”
Teachers now receive 40 hours of training plus 9 coaching sessions in their first year. In the second year teachers receive 20 hours of training plus 6 coaching sessions. From the third year forward teachers receive 10 hours of training plus 6 coaching sessions. Plus, the training is customized so each teacher is receiving what they need to learn. Allison, as the coach, receives additional staff development twice per year through Ohio State University.
Teaching is transformed from a curriculum-based classroom to an individualized environment where the teachers know each of their students and can differentiate instruction based on the student’s needs. Using a response-to-intervention model grounded in data-based decision making ensures achievement for all students with built in systems for prevention and intervention.
“This program is not cement, it is constantly evolving and I am always bringing new best practice information that I learn to my colleagues,” said Reigel. “A big draw is the collaborative teaming that takes place among colleagues. We have monthly team meetings focused on teaching for learning and literacy where we are all talking on the same plane.”
Amy LaBarre, Principal of Curriculum and Instruction noted that teachers are coming to her excited about what is happening in their classroom. Last year they decided they wanted to create a new stronger spelling curriculum. LaBarre said, “The teachers needed my guidance just for the process of development; they used their own resources to actually design the spelling curriculum. It was very exciting to see both the ownership and the leadership these teachers now have for their classroom and this excitement can only translate to improved results.”
“Teaching is more planning extensive. Teachers are very engaged, putting in the extra time when needed,” LaBarre noted, “We see our work now as a continuous learning and changing process. Teaching our students should never get too comfortable. Human nature wants us to look for the end – comfort; but if you are that comfortable, you probably are not doing what you should be doing.”
Many districts look at their AYP results and if they have made it they breathe a sigh of relief and say ‘good enough’. In Pequot Lakes they are continually looking at their data to see where improvement is still needed. And improve they have. At the end of this year they saw 87% of the Kindergarten class at or above grade level, compared to 68% the year before. Strong results are also being seen in first grade with 77% and in second grade with an amazing 97% at or above grade level. Pequot continues to expect strong improvement in coming years. Both teachers and administrators believe growth in leadership and teaching skills will continue to translate into growth in student achievement.
Now Superintendent Linnell would not go back. Literacy Collaborative, along with its strong coaching, leading and learning component, has become the backbone of Pequot Lake’s primary structure. Pequot Lakes is currently expanding the model to third through fifth grades.
Mr. Linnell concluded, “Our motto is to do what is best for our kids. We assess both the positive and the negatives and then we address the negatives. It is a lot more difficult to address problems then to define them. But our staff is all on board and excited for the journey.”
Pequot Lakes’ literacy initiative uses many of the core principles found in The HOPE Foundation’s Failure is Not an Option (FNO) School Transformation Model. FNO’s six principles are:
1) Common Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals
2) Ensuring Achievement for all Students – Systems for Prevention and Intervention
3) Collaborative Teaming Focused on Teaching for Learning
4) Data-Based Decision Making for Continuous Improvement
5) Gaining Active Engagement From Family and Community
6) Building Sustainable Leadership Capacity
Failure is Not an Option is a proven model supported by both the National Education Association and the American Association of School Administrators and is one of a small number of programs approved for use with federal School Improvement Grants (SIG).