City school officials discuss how changed mindset fostered success at summit

Martinsville City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Zeb Talley, Assistant Superintendent Angilee Downing, and Coordinator of Academic Interventions Tamra Vaughan spoke in a panel discussion about the Science of Reading in Practice at the Virginia Early Literacy Summit. The summit was a half day virtual event for educators and superintendents to dive into the science of early literacy, learn from fellow practitioners about best practices, and reflect on changes required of division leaders to implement high quality early literacy programs. The summit was sponsored by the University of Virginia and attended by Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane.

MCPS discussed its rapid transformation, of being unaccredited to being accredited three consecutive years in a row, through implementing a mindset that success is possible no matter the circumstances that students face and its relentless effort to provide equity for its student body. MCPS centered its mission around teamwork to make decisions on what would be best for students, to look at data to find areas of improvement, and to have a willingness to change. MCPS also highlighted how teachers and administrators not only worked together within their respective schools but with other schools in the division to make sure that there was a unified front, in every grade level, to help students fall in love with reading.

“We built a culture around the expectation that we were going to transform our district, not in 10 or 15 years, but in a single year,” said Talley. “Our students don’t have time to wait. We have always known that we have brilliant students and teachers, we just needed to make some minor changes in our culture to do what its right for our young people. We needed to bring a different type of teaching, but first and foremost, we wanted to build relationships to let students, families, and the community know we care.”

“We roll up our sleeves together and do the work together,” said Downing. “Data is a part of our culture. The data showed us that we really needed to make a conscious effort to be better for our students. This was not a top-down approach but instead a process of getting teachers and administrators involved to get everyone bought in to the idea of moving forward.”

“We have involved teachers and administrators in trainings and in assessing data,” said Vaughan. “This involvement was the piece we needed to understand the approach to reading we needed, how students read developmentally, and what are the things we need to put in place for our students to receive the high caliber instruction they need. We took time to analyze the data to look at the “why” behind it so that we could eliminate those barriers.”


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