Defense grant aimed at literacy, math readiness in Oak Harbor schools
By REBECCA OLSON
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
September 4, 2012 · Updated 3:59 PM
School started early for some this year, but instead of a sea of kids sitting at tables covered with new notebooks and pencils, teachers were the students during a Department of Defense grant training last week.
The Oak Harbor School District was awarded a $1.89-million grant to increase college and career readiness in literacy and math. This is the second year in a row Oak Harbor has earned grants from the Department of Defense Education Activity for professional development. Last year, a $2.16-million grant focused on improving reading for preschool through fifth grade students.
Middle and high school level English, math, science and career-technical education teachers attended intensive training last week. Wednesday afternoon, a group of English teachers was schooled on rhetorical devices, theme, tone and more at the high school. Like in their own classrooms, the “students” raised their hands to answer questions and read aloud.
“What we’re really looking for out of these trainings is to identify strategies and learn tools to help where students are struggling,” said Molly Butler, a high school English teacher who will take a one-year leave from teaching to act as the English and literature grant coach. The following school years, a math teacher and then a science teacher will each take a year-long leave to oversee the corresponding portions of the grant.
Laura Fortin, a math and English teacher at Oak Harbor High School since 1999, will serve as the full-time manager for the three-year duration of the grant.
Throughout the year, teachers will implement the tools they learned during the first week of training and assess the effect that has on students, Butler explained.
“It’s career and college readiness. (It’s to ensure) when students graduate from the high school, they will be prepared,” Butler said, adding that these skills should help prepare students for college, technical school, the military, a career and more.
A vital aspect of the grant is that teachers are not left alone after the first week of training; trainers from the Southern Regional Education Board and CORE, the firm that did much of the training for last year’s grant, will visit the schools to offer feedback and additional training.
“So they (teachers) won’t just be alone in their classrooms trying to make it work,” Fortin said. “It’s going to be a busy year but I think they will feel support.”
“Teachers are excited about it,” Butler said.
The grant also promotes development through “professional learning communities,” in which teachers split into small groups and focus on a team-chosen topic relating to the grant. Throughout the school year, they’ll meet outside of the school day using 20 hours paid for by the grant, Butler said.
“So far, I’ve heard a lot of positive comments,” Fortin said of the entire process.
Just from the first couple of days of training, Butler said she heard positive feedback, such as that the close-reading strategies they were learning would be easy to implement in the first few weeks of school.
“That’s great! That’s just what we wanted,” Butler said.
“We’re really excited about this opportunity and we’re looking forward to how this impacts our students in a positive way,” Butler said.
Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon wrote the grant again this year.
“It was an incredible amount of work to put together that grant. There were like 90 pages and it looked like a doctoral thesis,” Butler said. “It shows the commitment the district has to student success in the district.”
“I would hope that the effort we put toward obtaining the grant and the work we put into it would communicate our efforts to the community,” Butler added.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Rebecca Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-675-6611 ext. 5052.