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Literacy coach focuses on student achievement

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Literacy coach Vickie Beene (third from left) works with language arts teachers at high school, junior high, and elementary, spending time on each campus. The high school teachers include Holly Couch, Lisa Wesson, and Judy Jones. (Not pictured: Krisanna Miler)

By John R. Schirmer
News-Leader staff

For Vickie Beene, serving as the Nashville School District’s literacy coach for elementary, junior high and high school involves “being a resource person for teachers.”

Beene is one of three academic coaches in the district. Becky Stanley is literacy coach at Nashville Primary, and Dr. Bernie Hellums is the math coach districtwide.

With the ACT Aspire entering its second year as the state-required test for students grades 3-10, the Nashville schools are focused on increasing student achievement and improving scores, according to Superintendent Doug Graham.

Beene works with teachers in carrying out those tasks.

A former English teacher, Beene has set up workshops for English teachers at each building she serves and sometimes for each grade level in those buildings.

She meets with teachers to review test scores from the previous year. “We look over strengths and weaknesses,” she said, and work on ways to improve.

One of the resources which Beene has used is Reading Plus in grades 4-10. “It’s really good. It’s one of the most reliable resources for reading level comprehension, vocabulary and fluency. We use it for all seventh graders.”

Traits of Writing is a book which “ACT Aspire says it used to establish rubrics” for scoring the exam. “We’ll implement those strategies. We want our scores to be above the state and national average,” Beene said.

Of the 15 areas which are tested in grades 4-10, “We were above the national average in nine of them,” according to Beene. “The other six were mostly writing,” a test area which produced low scores statewide.

A writing workshop focused on “different strategies to increase organizational skills. Organization was low in most grades on the writing section,” Beene said.

Nashville scores “were really high on the English portion. The daily grammar practices in grades 4-10 are working,” Beene said.

Reading is another area covered on Aspire. “We encourage parents to have their kids read. They need help in reading,” Beene said. “Reading and writing are mirrors.”

At elementary school, teachers have a new Accelerated Reader reward program. “As individuals and in groups kids accumulate points and earn prizes,” Beene said. “We start with brag tags and go up to back packs full of neat things.”

The rewards are for work during the nine weeks.

“We want to get kids to read because they want to read,” Beene said.

Beene was a member of the committee which developed new literacy standards for language arts teachers. “We added some and took some out. We reviewed past standards and saw that some grammar skills were not aligned correctly,” Beene said. She worked on standards for grades 5-7. “It was a neat process.”

The committee met for a week to work on the standards, and members did outside work as well. Beene said she was pleased with what the group accomplished.

Beene also served on a committee with Nashville educators Kristy Vines and Krista Williams. “We went to Minneapolis and worked with Aspire on performance descriptors. I did them for tenth grade. Reading and writing are the areas we’re really focusing on.”

Technology is also part of the district’s efforts to prepare students for the Aspire. At junior high, students already have started going to the computer lab to work on writing prompts. They have 30 minutes to complete their response. The entire test is given online.

“We have a dedicated and hard-working group of literacy teachers,” Beene said. “They are committed to creating literate children who love to read. It’s an honor to work with each one.”