LEXINGTONTWP. − Mary Beth DelCalzo, an elementary school teacher in Lexington, soothed the wobbly preschoolers sitting on the floor in front of her so they could hear the words she was about to say.
“What word rhymes with cat?” She began. “Listen to your choices: mat or mop.”
The children chorused, “Mat!”
The class sailed through the series of rhyming words and then began to break down words into individual sounds.
They waved their hands in a chopping motion as they separated the “nuh” sound from “ose” in the word nose.
They banged their fists skyward to emphasize the “da” sound at the end of the made and fed words.
They clapped their hands together like a sandwich to put the sounds “ha” and “eye” together to form the word “hi.”
“Have you guys been practicing?” DelCalzo asked the 17 preschoolers as they finished their word rolls. “You must have practiced because I can’t believe it.”
For example, the 40-year-old educator wasn’t teaching reading concepts at Lexington Elementary a few years ago.
Marlington has spent the last three years improving how it teaches students to read and write. District leaders introduced reading programs such as Haggerty and Foundations to help teachers better teach students how to learn the individual sounds of words (phonemic cognition) and how those sounds are written (phonics). Research has shown that these types of skills help students learn to read.
DelCalzo said the reading programs gave her a roadmap to follow so each lesson would build on skills students learned in the previous lesson.
“You always rhyme in kindergarten, but it’s more of a program that focuses you and builds on that step by step,” said DelCalzo, who was a Marlington undergraduate and has spent the last 35 years teaching kindergarten. “So it’s a godsend that this is coming to the district.”
District leaders are hoping that a $200,000 state literacy grant Marlington recently received will help them create a coherent plan that will guide how the district improves literacy—reading, writing, speaking, and listening— for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Marlington is one of only 25 school districts in Ohio—and the only school district in Stark County—to receive a scholarship from the Ohio Department of Education.
“This will allow us to continue the work we started,” said Renee Kaley, the district’s director of curriculum and human resources development. “We have already begun work on K-5 literacy and this will allow us to expand on the work that has been started.”
Literacy Scholarship to support students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
The two-year scholarship is awarded as part of the state Department of Education’s Reaching All Students Through Language and Literacy initiative, which focuses on helping schools and school districts improve the way they serve students impacted by the pandemic-related school closures those most affected were learning to read and write.
Marlington, where nearly half of its nearly 1,900 students are from poor families, saw its elementary reading scores continue to fall short of pre-pandemic scores, state report card results show.
In third grade, 60% of Marlington students passed the reading test last year, better than last year when only 57.8% passed, but still well below the 82.4% of third graders who passed in 2019 passed.
Just over 67% of fourth-grade students in Marlington passed the reading test in their final year of school, compared to 68.7% the previous year and 77.1% in 2019.
In fifth grade in Marlington, 74.4% of students passed the reading test in their final year, compared to 72.5% the previous year and 82.1% in 2019.
As part of the scholarship, Kaley, the principals of the Lexington, Marlboro, and Washington elementary schools, the district instructional coach, and elementary teacher representatives will meet monthly with literacy experts to understand the schools’ strengths and weaknesses in literacy and literacy instruction . They then develop a plan that builds on those strengths while addressing the weaknesses.
Kaley said Marlington’s plan could include more literacy training for elementary school teachers or possibly the purchase of a core curriculum for grades kindergarten through fifth grade that would serve as a roadmap and resource guide for teachers.
“In the past, the focus has been on using an instructional framework, and teachers have researched and provided their own resources to support that framework,” said Kaley, who took over the curriculum post in 2021. “…resources were the problem. The teachers got material from so many different places and didn’t know if it was evidence based or not, if it was of high quality. They are burdened with so much planning that they don’t have time to check every single resource they draw. When we move to a core curriculum, this review has been done for us.”
Kaley expects that after the training next year, parents will begin to see a difference in how Marlington educators teach literacy. As part of the district’s continuous improvement plan, Marlington has set a goal of having 100% of its students achieve one year of growth in reading and math by May 2024.
DelCalzo looks forward to the opportunities the scholarship will bring to the district. She believes a reading series or core curriculum for teachers would be helpful.
“I think it will be really good if everyone has the same base,” she said. “…That means everyone starts at one point and you can enrich it and do what you need to do with your class, but there are certain things that everyone has been exposed to.”
She has already seen an improvement in how her students understand literacy concepts with the training she has already received.
Marlington receives State Leadership Award
Marlington Local Schools was named an Outstanding District by the Ohio Leadership Advisory Council for 2022.
The annual award recognizes an Ohio public school district that demonstrates effective leadership practices and strong examples of shared leadership in the Ohio Improvement Process model. The council is a partnership between the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio Department of Education.
In a message to Marlington leaders, the council said Marlington stands out from the other nominees.
“The selection committee was very impressed with the work you and your team are doing and the impressive results of the Ohio Report Card,” the statement said. “We knew Marlington’s focus on school improvement and inclusive leadership that leads to student success.”
Marlington will officially accept the award on December 6 at the Leadership Council presentation.