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Westside reading coaches getting ready for another year

Last year, Westside Elementary School was the only school in the state of Alabama to win the international Exemplary Reading Award. Because of that honor, several schools have already contacted the school to learn some of the techniques the school is using.

WES reading coaches Debbie Butler and Tracy Stewart have already started their reading assessments of Westside’s students to see where their needs are.

“We’re doing the state DIBILS test right now,” said Stewart, a former second-grade teacher who is in her first year as a reading coach. “Next week, we’ll be doing the Peabody test with the kindergarten students.”

“We start out with tons of assessments to see where all of our children are,” said Butler, entering her seventh year as a reading coach. “We’ll have our first data meeting the week after next, after we finish all the tests. The teachers are also testing. From all that data, we will determine what we need to teach and where we need to put our emphasis and get the kids where they need to be by the end of the year.”

The prestige of winning the Exemplary Reading Award has made Westside Elementary a key school to follow statewide.

“We’ve had a ton of phone calls from teachers and administrators who want to come visit,” Stewart said.

“We had tons of visitors last year,” Butler said. “They had a lot of questions, so we’ve got a huge networking system going now.

“We’ve also done some training for other (school) systems this past summer, and we’re going to present a session at the Alabama Reading Association conference in November in Birmingham.”

Stewart steps in to the position left vacant by former reading coach James Pope, who became the principal of Knox Elementary School in Selma during the summer.

“Being in the classroom, I only had 18 children that I was responsible for,” she said. “As a reading coach, I help the teachers work with the reading program with all of their children. That, with all of the testing — it’s just a huge responsibility.”

Butler said there would be no changes in the reading programs this year from last year. The “Story Town” program by Harcourt was very popular and effective last year with students and teachers alike.

“We will have more emphasis on the writing portion this year,” Butler said. “We’re bringing in the Reading-Writing Connection. Hopefully, that will help the kids to become better writers once they get to U.S. Jones.”