Henrico County VA

RISC to host meeting to address reading ‘crisis’ in Eastern Henrico

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More than 1,600 people are expected to gather May 2 in Eastern Henrico to call attention to an issue they say has reached "crisis" levels.

RISC (Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities) will host a meeting at St. Paul's Baptist Church on Creighton Road, beginning at 7 p.m., to call for Henrico County Public Schools officials to address reading problems among area students. The organization is composed of faith community members, parents and students. Representatives from each population are expected to speak.

Concerned parents and students will speak on the issue, which the group has been raising for more than a year.

RISC officials have cited stats that they say illustrate the depth of the problem, including that:

• 16 elementary schools in Henrico County Public Schools failed their reading SOL state tests in 2015;

• 75 percent of the schools that failed their reading SOL tests are located in Eastern Henrico;

• 81 percent of the schools that are partially accredited did not meet the benchmark or criteria for the narrow margin of improvement in reading in the 2014-15 school year;

Officials with RISC (an interfaith, interracial, multi-issue coalition of 17 member congregations in the greater Richmond area) are seeking a pilot program for kindergarten, first and second grades in five Eastern Henrico elementary schools.

Since 2013, however, HCPS has been implementing grade-specific literacy programs designed to place a stronger emphasis on instruction for kindergartners and first- and second-graders countywide. The program is designed to ensure that all students are reading on grade level by third grade, HCPS Director of Elementary Education Michelle McQueen-Williams told the School Board during its April 28 work session.

The approach focused initially on kindergarten in 2013-14, then on first grade last year and this year on second grade, she said. Each year, as the focus shifted to a new grade level, HCPS administrators formed a new literacy curriculum committee specific to that grade, composed of teachers from all five magisterial districts, McQueen-Williams said. The committees have helped design and implement new standards and training efforts for teachers to use to improve student literacy.

Each elementary school in the county has a Reading Administrative Designee (RAD) who ensures that teachers are effectively implementing those training techniques. Based on data and feedback from the first quarter of this school year, officials directed additional funding to address specific areas of need countywide in their second-grade literacy efforts.

The school system also has assigned district literacy coaches to spend one or two days a week at each of the elementary schools that are struggling with student literacy.

"We all agree with the absolute fundamental importance of all our students being able to read," Varina District School Board member John Montgomery said during the work session.


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