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$2.8M grant to aid literacy in Gainesville schools
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Gainesville Middle School eighth-grader Alejandra Garcia searches for a book in the school's media center Friday, May 11, 2018. The Gainesville City School System has been awarded a $2.8 million grant to improve literacy for all students. - photo by Scott Rogers

The Gainesville City School System has been awarded a $2.8 million grant to improve literacy for all students and expand professional development for teachers leading this charge.

Superintendent Jeremy Williams said the Literacy for Learning, Living and Leading in Georgia grant presents a “great opportunity for our students, their families and the Gainesville community.”

“I have been a part of a similar grant (working in another school system) and have seen the incredible literacy growth when all grades and schools have the focus and resources available,” Williams added.   

GCSS Chief Academic Officer Sarah Bell said the grant would help students gain access to more books and reading materials, while also providing professional development for teachers and community partners.

Moreover, an “evidence-based” curriculum will be implemented for students that includes “peer-assisted learning, small group reading interventions, developing academic English, explicit comprehension strategy instruction and explicit vocabulary instruction,” according to the Georgia Department of Education.

And it starts with educating kids as early as possible. Two-thirds of Georgia’s third-graders are not reading on grade level, according to the state.

Meanwhile, less than 50 percent of students in GCSS elementary and middle schools scored at the “developing learner” level or above on the Milestones English Language Arts assessment, which measures both reading and writing comprehension and skills.

Statewide, by comparison, 63.3 percent of elementary students and 62.6 percent of middle schoolers scored at the “developing learner” level or above.

Measuring reading progress

The Milestones English Language Arts assessment is the main metric used by the Georgia Department of Education to measure student reading and writing skills.

The following is the percentage of GCSS students scoring at the “developing learner” level or above on the ELA assessment last year:

GCSS averages

Elementary: 47.5 percent

Middle: 48.6 percent

9th-Grade Literature: 60.3 percent

American Literature: 59.3 percent

Statewide averages

Elementary: 63.3 percent

Middle: 62.6 percent

9th-Grade Literature: 76.8 percent

American Literature: 73.2 percent

GCSS is one of 38 school districts in the state to receive the grant. Georgia was awarded a total of $61,579,800, the highest award received by any state, through the federal Striving Readers grant competition.

“I am confident the $61 million Georgia is now able to invest in local schools and communities to support literacy will impact the lives of thousands of students,” state school Superintendent Richard Woods said in a statement. “Making sure Georgia students are reading on grade level remains mission-critical, top-priority work for us, and I have no doubt these districts — who submitted clear, focused, student-centered plans to improve literacy outcomes — are going to use these funds to make a tremendous difference for kids.”

All awarded districts have community-school partnerships with local organizations, the Regional Education Service Agencies, and teacher preparation programs to collectively improve literacy outcomes.

“L4GA gives us a chance to ensure that more students receive high-quality instruction, have access to support services and are offered a positive learning climate,” said state Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Caitlin Dooley. “Every child in Georgia deserves these opportunities from the time they are born through graduation.”

The grant funding will be doled out over two years.

Bell said 20 percent of the funding is immediately available, however, and will allow the school system to “begin some of the work this summer as we provide training, purchase required assessments and gather materials that will help us implement the activities of the grant.”

Bell said there are four primary outcomes that the grant funding seeks to bring to fruition: improvement in student literacy; improvement in teacher delivery of instruction; promotion of a positive school climate; and better overall academic outcomes for every student.

Bell said working with local nonprofits to get “the community rallying around the goal of improved literacy” is critical, and plans will be shored up in the next few weeks to begin implementing this goal.

“A key component of the grant is the development of strong partnerships with others in our community,” Bell said, including the Hall County Library System, Lanier Technical College, the United Way of Hall County, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier, the Gainesville Housing Authority and the local public health department.

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Gainesville Middle School's Martin Panuco searches for a book on the shelves of the school's media center Friday, May 11, 2018. The Gainesville City School System has been awarded a $2.8 million grant to improve literacy for all students. The money will also be used to expand professional development for teachers leading this charge. - photo by Scott Rogers