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Summit School District implementing new elementary literacy programs

Children wait in line to begin their first day of kindergarten at Dillon Valley Elementary School on Aug. 25. Summit School District is implementing new literacy programs at all of its elementary schools this year.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

The Summit School District is implementing a new literacy curriculum in all elementary schools this year in hopes of improving the district’s English language arts performance.

Liz Strempke, director of elementary education with the district, said she thinks the schools have already seen some growth since she started in her position two years ago.

“Two years ago the journey began, and it began with a community of parents who were quite upset with the direction literacy was going,” Strempke said in the board meeting. “We had a district who really needed support and … some systems for literacy.”



Despite her feeling that things have improved, Colorado Measure of Academic Success testing data from 2021 shows a decrease in students meeting or exceeding expectations in English language arts at Summit’s third and fifth grade levels compared with 2019. In third grade, that percentage of students dipped slightly from 37.9% to 36.6%. In fifth grade, it dipped more significantly from 50.2% to 42.1%.

Both rates for 2021 fell below statewide averages, something district leaders have attributed to the pandemic.



When the district began working to address the problem, Strempke said a committee was formed to look at potential changes to literacy, and parents were included, as well.

The committee ended up choosing a set of McGraw Hill literacy programs: Maravillas for Spanish and Wonders for English. The two programs work hand in hand at the district’s dual language programs at Silverthorne and Dillon Valley.

“We are moving toward a different way of teaching literacy at the K-3 level,” Strempke said.

Strempke said that the new literacy programs will be much more tightly structured, with intervention protocols built into the curriculum, and that teachers will use data analysis to determine how students are performing.

“When I say intervention work, we often think of the students who are struggling, but there’s also the component on the other end to support (gifted and talented) students,” Strempke said.

Another piece being incorporated in the intervention program is the Orton-Gillingham literacy approach. Strempke said some teachers within the district have experience with Orton-Gillingham, and the district held a training over the summer for about 25 teachers. She said it was a mix of teachers who wanted a refresher as well as some learning it for the first time. Now, there are teachers in every elementary building with some knowledge of the program.

The district will also implement the Renaissance Platform’s Star Assessments for kids who need additional support, which is currently an approved assessment by the Colorado Department of Education.

Literacy coaches will circulate through the schools to support teachers with implementing the new programs, too.

Board member Tracey Carisch said she is excited for the new programs but is worried about the kids who struggled with the old systems who are now in middle and high school.

“Now they’re out of elementary,” Carisch said in the board meeting. “They’re off in middle school, and they hate reading and avoid it like the plague. I do want to hear about how, yes, we’re implementing this and also we are making sure that we’re addressing any of those kids who did struggle with the old approach.”

Strempke said that it is something the district will continue to look into.

The district has set aside time within professional development days to train teachers on the new programs. Strempke said the district wants teachers to know the programs well and that there are many resources to help learn the curriculum. She said sent materials out to teachers earlier this year in case they wanted to start reviewing it over the summer.

“We have to have continuous, ongoing learning for staff,” Strempke said.

Once teachers were back in the schools, the district held its first training Aug. 13.

Strempke said the district is planning to hold an informational night this month to inform parents about the new materials and the at-home components.


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