Successful reading program will be expanded
Ventura County Star
April 6, 2004

Erinn Hutkin

Coaching aspect of Reading First is praised

At elementary schools in Santa Paula, coaches work with teachers, helping to measure kids' reading fluency and making sure they use spelling flash cards sent as extras with textbooks.

As part of this federally funded program, Reading First, instructors meet to discuss student needs. The state assists with problems and student progress is measured through tests.

The result, said Mercedes Ramirez, an assistant superintendent, is kindergarteners who can read and write.

"We're thrilled with the program," she said. "It's really a gift."

More Ventura County students are eligible next year for Reading First, a grant program whose aim is ensuring kids in grades kindergarten through third read at grade level. A lawsuit made the grant available to bilingual classrooms and many newly eligible districts plan to apply.

The Santa Paula, Oxnard, Rio, Ocean View and Hueneme elementary school districts can vie for grants. The districts are on a priority list to receive $13.3 million in additional Reading First money.

When the state started distributing Reading First money last year, bilingual districts could apply, but the money could only be used in English-speaking classrooms.

That led Californians Together, a coalition working on issues affecting English learners, to file a lawsuit in March 2003. When the suit was settled in February, bilingual classrooms became eligible for Reading First money.

California is receiving $133 million annually for the program for six years.

Locally, proponents of the program believe it will be successful because Reading First places an on-site director at each school to help teachers, troubleshoot, and make sure the initiative is implemented correctly.

"That's the missing piece," said Martha Hernandez, the Oxnard district's administrator of curriculum. "You have training, materials, but you try to implement, and there's no help. Here, you have it right on site. ... The coaching piece will be critical."

Eleven eligible Oxnard campuses are asking for Reading First money, potentially taking $2 million annually for three years. Four schools in Rio are applying as well.

At the end, there is an opportunity to extend the program another three years.

Hernandez said the program will replace a similar model, Reading Results. Teachers at Reading First schools must complete 40 hours of training the first year.

In Oxnard, school board member Denis O'Leary was a participant in the Reading First lawsuit as a parent of bilingual students and a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

He said six schools had been accepted for Reading First money, and hoped five more would be approved next month.

"We're putting meat on the bone," O'Leary said. "What I see with Reading First is finally, the federal government putting some money into methodology. We will be able to get a game plan of how to teach kids literacy."

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