Coaches help WES team to reading title

Published 12:39 am Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Debbie Butler and James Pope may not have conference championships to their credit or trophies on their mantles, but as the Westside Elementary School reading coaches they helped the school bring home a state title in an international program.

Last Friday, Westside received word that it would be the Alabama recipient of the Exemplary Reading Award, an international award given to the best reading programs in 34 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces and areas.

The award speaks well of Westside’s teaching staff, and is reflective not just of this year’s work through Harcourt’s “Story Town” reading program, but of the reading program as a whole over the last several years.

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“We’re very excited,” Butler said. “The teachers have worked extremely hard to get to this point.”

The reading coaches help guide the teachers throughout the year with the reading programs.

“We lead all of the professional development,” Butler said. “We observe teachers, and if there’s anything that needs to be tweaked in the delivery of the lesson, we try to support them on that.”

“We help plan lessons with them,” Pope said. “We give them any guidance they need and answer any questions about the lessons, especially since we’re implementing a new reading program.”

“If we have children who are not being successful, then we work with the teachers to work out a plan,” Butler said.

“We check in to see if it’s working and, if not, then we follow up with something until we find something that is working.”

Butler said the biggest difference in reading at Westside over the last eight years has been in the way it has been taught.

“Before, it was taught as a whole class, and the teacher did her best to see that each child got it,” she said.

“Now, we do small-group instruction, there is a lot of intervention effort if things aren’t going according to plan, and there are enrichment efforts for those who are achieving at higher grades.”

“Embedded professional development is the biggest thing I’ve seen,” Pope said.

“By bringing other people in, we collaborate with each other and we learn from each other.”

This year, several school systems have sent representatives to Westside to observe the reading program and to bring back ideas to improve their own reading programs.

That prompted WES principal Connie Brown to contact Harcourt Publishing, which distributed the reading program, to make sure the school was doing the program correctly.

A Harcourt representative visited the school on Jan. 22 and gave the school high praise, calling Westside a prime example of how the program should be done, and even more school systems are planning on sending representatives.

At Westside, the teachers, principal and staff come together and work as a team to make its reading program effective.

That team effort has led to the school earning an international award as the state’s reading representative, an title achieved with the help of the reading team’s coaches.