By Joel McNeece, The Journal, January 27, 2016
“Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.” Those are the words of Helen Caldicott, an Australian physician and author.
Many would take umbrage with that notion, but they should have been present at last week’s school board meeting in Pittsboro.
The “fate of the earth” wasn’t necessarily decided, but the importance of teachers was on display for which no one could deny.
Lindsey Hastings, Katie Hill and Jennifer Moore, the first-year literacy coaches in the school district gave updates to the board on what occupies their time and the impact of their actions. The presentations were requested because the positions were a creation of the board.
Superintendent Mike Moore explained school officials from across the state have been lobbying for these positions for a long time, stressing the importance of getting all students on reading level as early as possible in their academic careers.
Our state legislature declined to fund those positions specifically nor adequately fund education as a whole for years now. Moore noted the state association for school superintendents has given up lobbying for full funding of the MAEP formula because legislators have made it clear that’s just not a priority.
Given that fact, the Calhoun County School District took it upon itself to use local funds to establish these three positions, particularly with the implementation of the Third Grade Reading Gate, which is one of the few education triumphs state leaders deserve credit for.
It wasn’t a cheap investment by the county. Nearly $160,000 is being put into these positions, which obviously takes funds away from other places, but this is rightly a priority.
The fact is that 85% of Calhoun County’s population does not have a college degree. Nearly 35% lacks a high school diploma.
Reading ability is at the core of both of those statistics.
Hastings, Hill and Moore are helping to provide the additional teaching our students in the dangerous area of reading deficiency desperately need.
All three shared outlines of their days, from working with dyslexic students, to holding reading sessions with groups of students struggling with comprehension.
Hastings, as well as a few others in the room, were brought to tears as she shared a letter from one of the three students who failed to pass the reading gate last year. Two of the students, thanks to the additional teaching help, passed the gate on second attempts, but this letter writer came up short despite showing tremendous progress.
“Thank you for helping me read,” Hastings read in the letter as tears fell on the podium.
“This meant so much to me because he didn’t pass, but he still wrote me a letter saying thanks for helping me read,” she said.
Jennifer Moore shared a similar story of a new student who enrolled at Vardaman and upon evaluation was determined to be two years behind his age group in reading ability.
Through the hard work of teachers, Moore and this student, he is now reading above his current grade level.
“I’m hopeful now he can become one of our top students in that grade,” Moore said through more tears.
It means this much to these teachers, the students, and just may be the “fate of the earth.”