Camden City Public Schools partnered with American Reading Company and propelled principals from “School Leaders” to “Instructional Leaders” capable of jump-starting historically underperforming schools. The district made (and continues to make) unprecedented investments in principals so that they may become effective change agents who can “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” when it comes to reading instruction. Camden turned to American Reading Company’s ACTION 100 RtI solution, a comprehensive accountability model that turns every teacher into a Reading Expert and every principal into the “Director of Reading.” With a dedicated Executive Coach, principals received weekly on-site training to reorganize their schools for accelerated and continuous reading improvement. After the first of a three-year commitment to ACTION 100, students at the Dr. Ulysses S. Wiggins and Cramer Elementary Schools demonstrated reading growth of 1.0 years and .9 years, respectively. Based in part on these early results, the schools were awarded $5.4 million in funding through School Improvement Grants.
In September 2009, Camden City Public Schools embarked on a culture-changing partnership with American Reading Company that paved the way for dramatic improvements in student reading achievement. According to Assistant Superintendent Andrea Gonzalez-Kirwin, “Our partnership with American Reading Company was a driving force in jump-starting these two schools, making them ideal candidates for the highly coveted School Improvement Grants.” Now in Year Two of the ACTION 100 implementation, these historically underperforming schools have been transformed into learning labs for the entire school district. Central to the partnership is extensive professional development training for principals and teachers in utilizing a teaching, learning, and formative assessment system built on Common Core Standards.
About ACTION 100
ACTION 100 is a 12-step RtI framework which uses curriculum-embedded formative assessment built on the architecture of the Common Core Standards for reading. To execute impactful reading instruction, Camden teachers received intensive on-the-job professional development based on what the student can do when decoding and comprehending print. The books students encountered were self-selected from collections of leveled text that represent the best of published fiction and nonfiction titles. Daily, actionable data (electronically aggregated and disaggregated) not only drove the classroom reading instruction and practice, but captured the rate of reading growth for every student, every day. These data were also examined by teachers in the same-grade cohort, fostering collaboration among professionals. Finally, and very importantly, there was daily involvement of parents in home reading routines, a vital element for rapid rate of reading growth.
Drivers of Results: The BIG THREE
- 1. Principals gained access to a dedicated Executive Coach to train and counsel them throughout the entire year.
- Just as CEOs in private businesses rely on Executive Coaches to make important decisions and, ACTION 100 school principals had a dedicated Executive Coach by their side to offer expert training and advice. Suzanne Simons (Wiggins) and Gina Cline (Cramer) visited their respective schools every week to assist in day-to-day program management and to troubleshoot any new issues emerging in what might have been unfamiliar terrain for principals during the turnaround process.
- 2. The principal’s credibility as the instructional leader was solidified through their own professional development alongside teachers.
- Principals could “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” about reading instruction because they participated in the same extensive professional development training that was required of ACTION 100 classroom teachers. Principals participated in literacy instruction on a daily basis, conducting conferences and formative assessment with students during classroom visits. Once principals really understood how children became readers, they could act on what was needed to ensure classroom teachers would become reading experts.
- 3. Instructionally useful data began to change everyone’s behavior.
- Principals learned to use real-time data to monitor teacher progress. Teachers began using real-time data to drive individualized student instruction. The commonly used daily metric was “the number of steps read ” (think of tracking steps as something akin to lawyers tracking billable hours). Teacher-friendly data input of this key metric provided immediate and transparent knowledge of student reading growth, which proved to be highly predictive of reading success.
With the nationwide emphasis on turning around chronically underperforming schools, ACTION 100 has demonstrated its ability to prepare school principals for the instructional leadership role required for systemic change. This change is happening in both rural and urban districts alike, and in low-income schools, such as in Camden, which face profound economic challenges. The first step toward educational equity begins and ends with the principal’s preparedness to be the catalyst for cultural change. Through ACTION 100, robust instructional leadership paves the way for reading achievement for every child. It makes the difference.