Peggy Connors talking with students at Green Meadow

Peggy Connors, right, meeting kindergarten students at Green Meadow Elementary School.

The East Greenbush Central School District has partnered with the University at Albany’s School of Education to enhance early literacy instruction in all five elementary schools. The collaboration will feature professional development and embedded support for 32 teachers, including primary classroom teachers and reading teachers.

The goal is to enhance teacher expertise in delivering high quality instruction for diagnosing and remediating early literacy difficulties in children.

“The early and accurate identification of reading difficulties is crucial when it comes to helping children succeed academically,” said Assistant Superintendent James McHugh, who initiated this partnership. “We know that the research clearly shows that children who get off to a poor start in reading rarely catch up and the consequences of a slow start in reading become monumental over time. It is important that educators and schools have the ability to identify and help children become successful readers before remediation is more difficult and more costly.”

The partnership officially started on February 10 with the first of 11 professional development workshops for teachers led by Peggy Connors, an Interactive Strategies Approach mentor from the UAlbany School of Education.

Ms. Connors will also spend 2.5 days in district elementary schools each week through June to offer embedded support to teachers, which includes lesson planning, modeling and coaching.

The Interactive Strategies Approach, which was developed by a team of researchers including Dr. Donna Scanlon and Ms. Connors, is a nationally-recognized approach to early literacy instruction and intervention that was developed and tested across three large-scale, federally funded studies.

“In the course of our research, we developed and evaluated an approach to early literacy instruction and intervention proven to be successful in reducing the number of children who experience long-term literacy difficulties,” said Dr. Scanlon.

The partnership between East Greenbush CSD and UAlbany’s School of Education, which was funded at no cost to the district by utilizing federal grant money, is the product of months of planning and discussion.

“Recent work by our teachers and building administrators identified a need for professional development in the area of early literacy,” said Mr. McHugh. “This unique collaboration was months in planning and we are quite fortunate to have access to Dr. Donna Scanlon, Peggy Connors and the University at Albany’s nationally renowned School of Education.”

As part of the ISA approach, Ms. Connors will help teachers use a common language and techniques to improve literacy in students. She will also help train teacher leaders who can then move this literacy approach forward with other educators in the district.

“Our shared vision is that, over time, our work with the district will result in a cadre of in-district professionals who are able to support and sustain the learning of their colleagues utilizing the resources we provide and the learning that occurs in the context of this collaboration,” said Ms. Connors. “I think this is an exciting step in our professional development offerings and we look forward to working with the district going forward.”

The timing for this partnership couldn’t be better as schools continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19 and the potential for learning gaps.

“I can’t think of anything more important than expanding and sharpening our classroom practices related to helping our youngest children overcome their reading struggles and developing as fluent readers,” said Superintendent Jeff Simons. “This partnership with the University at Albany is an important professional collaboration which will pay dividends for our teachers, our students and the entire district.”