West Orange School District Strategies Impress Canadian Early Learning Intervention Team

Terry Granato, Basic Skills/Title I  Program Director, Jennifer Kurta, Jennifer M., Tina Newton, and Shaun Sullivan of Verdun School, Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Hazel Fifth Grade Safety Patrol students Makaylin Valley, Santiago Orrico, Amelie Eder and Leo Levine, welcome the team from Canada. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Verdun team Jennifer Kurta, Tina Newton, Jennifer M., and Shaun Sullivan observe an intervention session with Principal Edwin Acevedo, teacher Mrs. Aker and First  graders Bryan Mantilla and Theresa Holman. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Front, (L-R) Washington Elementary School Principal Marie DeMaio, Washington Basic Skills teacher Alba Loconsole, Terry Granato. Rear, (L-R) JenniferKurtz, Shaun Sullivan, Jennifer M., Verdun School; Washington Basic Skills teacher Jane Richards, and Reading Specialist Wendi Giuliano; Tina NewtonVerdun School, Washington Reading Intervention teacher Jennifer Bottarini​. Credits: Cynthia Cuming

WEST ORANGE, NJ – A team of teachers and administrators from the Verdun School in Quebec, Canada visited the West Orange School District on April 23 and 24 to observe the district’s successful Leveled Literacy Intervention program, according to a school representative.

With the support of Lesley University, research was conducted reviewing various literacy programs, and the Verdun Schools discovered that West Orange had a program that supports the needs of struggling learners in literacy. Through grant funded money, a team was formed to plan and prepare a visitation to West Orange. The Verdun Team created an outline of essential ideas that they wanted to take back with them. An itinerary was built around their requests with Hazel and Washington Schools as the representative schools for the visitation.

Hazel and Washington Elementary Schools were selected because their demographics were similar to those of the Verdun Schools. Hazel and Washington are Title I Schools, part of No Child Left Behind which provides funding to local school districts to improve the academic achievement of disadvantaged students. The program originated in 1965 as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

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One component of the West Orange School District’s Early Intervention Program is Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI), a short-term intensive intervention program of approximately 18-24 weeks that is structured to move students up to grade-level performance in Language Arts Literacy. Low-income children struggling to make adequate yearly progress are also eligible to receive Supplemental Educational Service (SES) Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

“I received a call from Verdun Schools in Quebec, Canada regarding our Leveled Literacy Intervention Program for at-risk learners,” said Basic Skills/Title I Program Director for the West Orange School District Terry Granato.

“They heard that we have an exemplary program going on in the district, which supports the needs of our struggling learners in literacy. They were very interested in coming to West Orange to meet our staff and children along with taking back new knowledge of how they can begin reaching their lowest performing students,” she said.

The Verdun Team met with Hazel Principal Dr. Edwin Acevedo and Washington School Principal Marie DeMaio and their Intervention teams to debrief after observing several primary and intermediate intervention lessons. In addition, they spoke with students as they collected information to plan, implement the programs, and assess students in their own school.

“Our teachers inspire a love for reading within their students as the students gain confidence and strength in their learning,” said Granato.

Shaun Sullivan, a team member for the Verdun School, said she was grateful to the district for the opportunity to study the West Orange LLI program.

“Our learning objectives were to observe first-hand the key elements of best practices for effective literacy instruction for at-risk, inner-city students,” she said. “Our target areas of learning were assessment, instructional strategies, classroom practice and collegial support and development.”

“There were a number of highlights to our visit,” she said. “First, the opportunity to observe the expertise and precision with which the small group intervention was delivered by the  intervention teachers and reading specialists; equally as beneficial was having the opportunity to debrief with dedicated and knowledgeable staff at both Hazel and Washington Elementary schools about how they create and sustain strong commitment to structured early intervention.”

Sullivan added, “We accomplished all of our goals during our visit to West Orange and are currently drafting a plan to identify specific measures to more firmly establish assessment- driven practice and reinforce a shared vision among our staff based on the Leveled Literacy Intervention, evidence based model."

Verdun Team member Jennifer Kurta, in a letter of thanks to the school district and staffs of Hazel and Washington said, “This experience has equipped us with the knowledge and vision necessary to fulfill our objective to move forward in our own literacy initiative and further build capacity in early literacy intervention and instruction.”

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Donna Rando said, "I am thrilled to know that West Orange is recognized as a district with an exemplary literacy program to assist students in need of academic support. I extend my gratitude to the teachers and administrators for all their hard work to make this happen."

This is the TAP into West Orange West Orange Public Schools Column.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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