Superintendent Lewis proposes system-wide K-5 reading program

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 4, 2013 

The Muscogee County School Board voted Tuesday to name Polk County's David Lewis, 56, as the finalist for the job of superintendent. 07/09/13

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

What the Ledger-Enquirer indicated last month came to fruition this week when Superintendent David Lewis proposed the Muscogee County School District adopt a system-wide reading program for grades K-5.

Lewis made the announcement in a news release emailed Tuesday evening.

In a Nov. 23 report at ledger-enquirer.com and in the Nov. 24 print edition, the newspaper listed such a reading program among the possible recommendations Lewis would make in the plan he has promised to send the school board after Thanksgiving, taking only 120 days to analyze the district since he was hired in July.

The program Lewis recommends is called Reading Wonders. The district's cost would be $1,755,022. Half would be due within 30 days of shipment; the other half would be due by Dec. 1, 2014, in next fiscal year, according to the agenda item. The package also includes $5,126,230 in "free materials," the agenda items says.

Lewis' proposal comes after he visited all 58 of the districts schools and centers during his first four months in office.

"I want to ensure that we have a high-quality and consistently implemented reading program throughout the district," Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview Wednesday. "Currently, teachers are using a variety of different approaches that present a lot of challenges for students who are transient in our community and students with language barriers."

According to its website, Reading Wonders is the first and only reading/language arts program aligned with the Common Core, a set of national standards Georgia has incorporated in its state standards, Lewis said.

The goal, Lewis said, is for all students to read at the expected level by third grade.

"After that," he said, "the disparity grows exponentially, and it costs even more to remediate."

Reading Wonders especially will help schools with students from predominantly low-income families, where reading materials are less prevalent than in more affluent homes, Lewis said.

"This coordinates guided reading," he said. "Students can take trade books home with them. There also is a web-based component parents can access from home."

Lewis also noted that, unlike most programs, Reading Wonders links reading and writing instruction together.

If the board approves the program, teachers would start Reading Wonders training next semester, then it would be fully implemented next school year, Lewis said.

"We want it to be in place for a minimum of six years, a full cycle," he said. "Then we'll review it. Of course, we will do that intermittently as well."

A committee of teachers, principals, assistant principals and reading coaches helped Lewis choose Reading Wonders, which is published by McGraw-Hill, the release said.

Phenix City Public Schools started using Reading Wonders this school year. Lisa Coleman, the system's director of curriculum and instruction, said the program has been well received.

"It's so comprehensive," she said. "We were looking for something more rigorous to better prepare our students for the 21st Century. Quite a few of the components are electronic, so we are getting up to speed with that."

Reading Wonders replaced Story Town in Phenix City, which the system used for about six years, Coleman said, because it better aligns with the Common Core.

As for the rest of his 120-day plan, Lewis said he is assessing the 106 pages of notes he took from school visits and meetings with district and community leaders. He is developing goals and action plans, some of which would be contingent on the state's allocation for next fiscal year and the effect of health care reform, he said. Lewis, however, expects his plan to be ready for the board in January.

The board's next meeting is Monday at 6 p.m. in the Muscogee County Public Education Center, 2960 Macon Road. The gathering is the only one the board has scheduled this month, combining its work session with its official meeting.

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