FARMINGTON — The Regional School Unit 9 board of directors was given a presentation on Tuesday, May 14, which showed data and trends collected in a literacy audit conducted by Carrie Thurston of CSS Consulting.

Thurston visited classrooms and conducted anonymous surveys among the teaching staff at all kindergarten through grade five schools in the district, including Academy Hill, Cape Cod Hill, Cascade Brook, G.D. Cushing, and W. G. Mallett schools.

Thurston’s data and professional recommendations were solicited by the district in response to the allocation of funds received from a $10 million state literacy grant for Maine schools. The Mills Administration announced the grant in January of this year with the purpose of supporting “the development, expansion, and enhancement of evidence-based core literacy instruction and targeted interventions for Maine students.”

According to the press release, the grant funding can be used as compensation for educators for their participating in evidence-based literacy professional learning opportunities and instruction, for professional learning opportunities on evidence-based literacy practices, to train instructional coaches, and to purchase evidence-based literacy materials.

Carrie Thurston of CSS Consulting, back, shares her data collected to the RSU 9 board of directors at their meeting on Tuesday, May 14. Also pictured: Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Curriculum & Grants Monique Poulin, front. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

According to Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Curriculum & Grants Monique Poulin, grant funds must be spent by September of this year, and it was decided among the administration to have literacy audit conducted to better understand how these funds may be allocated.

Thurston said that her anonymous surveys yielded over 150 pages of data, adding the feedback she got from those surveys was honest.

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In her presentation, Thurston highlighted several areas to work on, including reevaluation of the district’s recently implemented phonetics curriculum, which she shared had mixed reviews among the teaching staff, and putting a greater emphasis on writing.

“There was an overwhelming feeling on the part, and was substantiated in observation of your educators that writing is an area that needs focus and has not had a direction from a curriculum standpoint, or from an assessment standpoint,” she said.

Thurston also highlighted the need for students to have a MTSS, or multi-tiered system of support, which she stated was “loose and inconsistent” in the district depending on the grade level. She added, however, that was not uncommon, and many schools need support in creating a more efficient MTSS.

Among Thurston’s recommendations, she noted that the band, orchestra, and choir meeting times for the three to five grade level caused consistent interruption with their literacy blocks.

“A teacher will find themselves with anywhere from four to eight kids in a class,” she said, “and waiting for the band, chorus and orchestra kids to return.”

Thurston added that she was a strong proponent of the arts and administration should look into adjusting the schedule for those meeting times.

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For professional development, she had varied comments, but her strongest recommendation was for school principals to participate with their teachers and provide greater support for their teaching staff through instructional knowledge.

Thurston added that the school library is one of the most critical roles in literacy intervention and praised the district’s library staff.

“You have some of the best libraries I’ve seen, and I’ve been doing this a long time,” she said.

She also stated that RSU 9 teaching staff was incredibly welcoming during her observations, which she stated isn’t always the case for her when she performs an audit.

“You have a very loyal group of educators who like being here,” she said, “and they all report that they feel a very strong sense of community to their buildings.”


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