Since the 2002-03 school year, each one of the 28 elementary schools in Weber School District has had a full-time reading specialist. These specialists are experienced, licensed teachers who are required to have an additional Advanced Reading Endorsement. They are also required to continue to improve their knowledge and expertise through ongoing training and collaboration with other reading specialists throughout the District. Becky Okey, Elementary Reading Specialist directs these dedicated teachers and has done a marvelous job in successfully implementing this essential program.
The primary role of reading specialists in our district is to improve reading proficiency and support reaching the goal of having every child reading on or above grade level by the end of 3rd grade. They provide expert instruction, assessment, and leadership for our schools by working closely with students, teachers, staff and parents. While they focus on early literacy in grades K-3, they impact students at all grade levels. This provides a foundation for future learning in all grades and in all subject areas.
One of the roles of the reading specialists is to support early identification and treatment of reading difficulties. To accomplish this, the reading specialists oversee and administer individual assessments to every student in grades K-3 three times a year as well as ongoing assessments for students who are struggling with reading. At the beginning of this school year, over 9,000 students were assessed using Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) which measures basic early literary skills. They work closely with teachers to determine which students would benefit from additional intervention in reading. The reading specialists then work directly with those students who need intensive instruction by providing early reading intervention in small group settings. Additional staff members are trained and guided by reading specialists and are able to assist in providing support to more students as needed.
Since its inception, until the present time, DIBELS and Criterion Referenced Test (CRT) test assessments have shown marked improvement in reading proficiency. There is also a direct correlation of reading scores to math and science improvement in later grades.
Reading specialists work closely with teachers to support them in providing high quality reading instruction and ensuring student learning in the classroom. As a part of the school literacy team, the reading specialist work to build school capacity to problem solve, analyze data, make informed instructional decisions, motivate students and understand core curriculum. The dedication and devotion our reading specialists demonstrate for improving reading in our schools is amazing. Countless students’ lives have been changed for the better due to the hard work and efforts of these specialists.
I was planning on writing this message about New Year’s resolutions and other more light minded reading. However the horrific attack in Newtown, Connecticut has forced me to put that commentary on hold. It has literally taken days for me to put this in print as I am still trying to get a grasp in my mind as to what happened. This tragic event has left fear, worry, numbness and shockwaves across our country, our state and our community. I see the uneasiness and apprehension on so many faces as they ask “could something like that happen in our schools?” Although I cannot ease your worry, I can tell you that Weber School District works tirelessly to do everything within our control to keep children out of harm’s way. We recognize that we do not have the power to prevent horror in this world but we will do all possible to keep our students and schools safe.
It was no surprise to hear the stories of the Newtown educators, some of whom even gave their lives, to protect the students. Educators here would do no differently; there is absolutely no doubt in my mind. Our employees always go the extra mile to make safety our number one priority in all of our schools. While it’s almost impossible to foresee every random act of violence, we will continue to work to do everything within our power to maintain a safe and secure learning environment.
Our hearts go out to the families, friends and neighbors impacted by this terrible tragedy. It’s hard to imagine what they must be going through. I have been touched by the outpouring of love and caring given to the family of Emilie Parker. The pink ribbons that have surrounded our streets have been a constant reminder of the importance of community. I am thankful for our police, fire and emergency response professionals and all others who are charged with protecting and preserving our lives. For this and much more, I believe we are truly very blessed.
As always, we value the partnership we have with our local police departments as well as the Weber County Sheriff’s Department. Weber School District will continue to work closely with all local law enforcement to ensure our emergency plans are up to date, clear, easy to use and ready to be implemented instantaneously. We will continue to work with our School Resource Officers to review all of our safety protocols and procedures. We are continually reassessing our practices and we reaffirm our commitment to make certain we are doing everything conceivable to keep our children protected
Please feel free to contact any of our school administrators or counselors if you have concerns about a child or if parents need help in talking to their children about this difficult subject. We have several resources available.
In closing, I wish to thank you for your continued support and wish you the best for a safe, happy and healthy new year.
Recently, I learned of a high school teacher who went to extraordinary lengths to reach a struggling student. This student, who at one point was in jeopardy of not graduating high school, is now back on track and eager for graduation later this spring. No doubt, many caring teachers were instrumental in her turnaround. I had an opportunity to meet and talk with this young woman. She described her enthusiasm for school and attributed her recent success to her teachers. When I asked about her future goals, she told me that she plans to attend Bowling Green University for a bachelor’s degree and then the University of Miami for her master’s degree in marine biology. I was deeply touched by the transformation in this student and the fact that it was teachers who inspired the change.
Of the many ways that teachers impact students, their capacity to inspire them is perhaps the most far-reaching. There’s simply no way to measure it! Teachers have the uncanny capacity to recognize the talent and potential in students. Frequently, the students themselves fail to recognize their own ability. But, insightful teachers see it and daily go about encouraging and developing those gifts.
Last year, a high school principal introduced me to their math Sterling Scholar. This student told me that she wasn’t always good at math, but her junior high math teacher helped her see her own potential. High school math teachers continued nurturing her talents. This young woman inspired me when I asked, “What is it about mathematics that you enjoy so much?” After a moment’s reflection, she thoughtfully responded, “Math gives me the hope that every problem has a solution.” No doubt, she will contribute much to the world.
In a letter to his wife, Abigail, dated July 7, 1776, just three days after America had determined its independent course, John Adams wrote the following: “Children have capacities equal to anything. There is a vigor in their understanding and a spirit and fire in the temper of every one of them, which is capable of ascending the heights of art, science, trade, war, or politics.” Teachers and other adults in our schools play a unique role in seeing that “spirit and fire” in children and inspiring them as they ascend “the heights” toward achieving their potential. We are most grateful for the impact that all professionals in our schools have on young people!
More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson warned that a nation could not expect to be both free and ignorant at the same time. The advantages of living in a democratic society are simply too great to allow freedom and ignorance to exist in unison. As recipients of the blessings of this nation, we must continually strive to do our best to educate our children and grandchildren to someday be able to assume the responsibilities and enjoy the freedoms of our society. We may rightfully state that the problems facing society today have never been greater and the importance of a highly educated people to help solve those problems has never been more critical. Tamra Excell stated that “…education’s purpose is to empower students to find their own paths to their own dreams; to create life-long learners who are prepared for both the modern world and the future…”
So how do we prepare students for a future that we ourselves can barely imagine? How do we empower children in our schools to be able to make a positive impact in an ever changing world?
These are difficult questions that must be addressed. In Weber School District, we strive to create personalized education opportunities geared at preparing students to be successful, not just in their own neighborhoods, but as world citizens. A personalized education program is student-driven where students take an active role in their education, tailored to each student’s learning style.
Instead of simply functioning solely as disseminators of information, our teachers also take an active role as facilitators and mentors offering guidance and feedback to each student. We can no longer limit students to only that which we know.
Perhaps more important than learning specific concepts is learning how to learn. Students must be prepared with the ability to learn, critically evaluate, and apply new concepts that come their way. Our teachers provide a wonderful service in assisting students with educational opportunities that help them acquire the ability to learn and progress. Specialized programs and caring teachers at both the elementary and secondary levels help provide students with these opportunities for development and growth.
We appreciate our dedicated teachers in Weber School District who through their planning, preparation, and collaboration provide opportunities for preparing students for the future.
I drive an older car. My car will quickly (might be more accurately to say slowly ..as nothing moves quickly on my car) pass the 340,000 mile mark this month. Every morning when I start my car I wonder if this will be the day that the engine doesn’t rev or turn over. And yet each and every day, even in frigid weather, it starts. The paint is faded and peeling and my car is not nearly as handsome as the newer models, but the engine continues to perform all necessary tasks needed to function. Over the life of my car I have spent very little money on repairs. One may be amazed to find that my car has the original windshield, radio and seats. I imagine that I have many math and science teachers to thank, those who have inspired young future engineers to build an automobile that can perform so effectively. How many do I need to thank? How many elementary teachers were needed to make this happen? How many students spent hour upon hour studying diligently so that someday they could create just the right combination for internal combustion? How many parents sat with their child after school encouraging them to learn to read or to complete their science project? I know that I have been the benefactor of untold dedication by educators, students and parents. I know my ever trusty car is just the tip of the iceberg, I thank you all, wherever you may be.
The month of April is often times associated with the paying of taxes. Recently, I had a conversation with an individual that felt it unfair that he was paying taxes for schools when his children were raised and living out of state. “Why am I paying to educate other people’s children?” he asked. I know that taxes are an unpopular subject and there are many diverse opinions on how to best raise, use and distribute taxes. I am too faint of heart to offer solutions in those arena’s, but I will state boldly that society as a whole benefits from taxes spent on education, regardless if you have children currently attending a public school. Public education provides children the needed building blocks to create their future. An educated child is a more productive adult, one who can turn a heap of metal into a marvel of a car. When we pay taxes for education we are investing in the type of culture and society in which we want to live. I am convinced that I am still driving my car today in part because people willingly or unwillingly paid a portion of their taxes into the educational system. Weber School District firmly believes that we must be wise stewards of your tax dollars and do all we can to live up to your expectations of trust and competency. Thank you to all of you that help make this complex world a better place. Enjoy the sunshine.
Several weeks ago, I had an insightful conversation with the head of clinical nursing at a local hospital. She discussed the challenge that the hospital was facing to improve patient satisfaction. For months, the nurses’ approach was to standardize care for each patient. Primarily, they were focused on standardization to avoid errors as well as inequity of patient care. The results were disappointing. Patient satisfaction remained relatively unchanged. Then she had a brainstorm--every patient is different! You can’t standardize individual patient care and expect to improve patient satisfaction. The nurses are now looking at each patient individually and addressing each patient’s specific needs and concerns.
Within our profession, there is a strong tendency to standardize schooling. However, just as with nursing, it’s simply not the right thing to do. Each child is different. Each child brings different strengths, interests, and needs. I am so thrilled to be a part of a school district where our teachers and support professionals get that. Regularly, I receive letters and e-mails from parents who are so pleased with the experiences that their children are having in our schools. I want to quote from one note I recently received:
“My son is very, very smart. He loves to work and please. I was very nervous about putting him into public schools this year--until I met his teacher. She deserves a medal! She has spent countless hours working with my son to not only build his confidence, but also allow him to grow as a student. My son is now excelling both academically and behaviorally. I couldn’t have done it alone without his teacher’s great support. And, the principal was right there the entire time helping us along. I just wanted to let you know the EXCEPTIONAL staff you have and how truly blessed I feel to have been involved with them. Thank You!”
We are charged to care for and develop the Whole Child. When students feel safe in school, they are ready to learn. Students who feel connected to school are more likely to stay in school and excel. All students who have access to challenging and engaging academic experiences are better prepared for further education, work, and civic life. These components must work together, not in isolation. And, they can’t be standardized! The demands of a 21st Century education require a Whole Child approach to learning, teaching, and community engagement in which we address the uniqueness of each student.
I wish to express my deepest appreciation to each of you for your persistence, professionalism, and commitment to children. I am proud of our school district! I love the remarkable things that you do for children every day. Thank you for contributing to a highly successful school year.
Last March, I had the unique privilege to meet the renowned author and poet, Maya Angelou, prior to her speaking to a large audience of educators. Undoubtedly, Dr. Angelou is an American treasure! She began her speech with a song of hope and gratitude: "When it looked like the sun wouldn't shine anymore; God put a rainbow in the cloud. It's not just that we have rainbows in the sky," she explained, "but in the clouds themselves. So, even when it seems as though the storm won't let up, we have something there to encourage us." Dr. Angelou then told this large body of teachers that they, too, are "rainbows in the clouds" for the children they teach.
As I reflect back on my life, the brightest rainbows in the clouds for me are past teachers. I was fortunate to have the same kindergarten and first grade teacher, Mrs. Bennett, a wonderful teacher and truly a rainbow in my life. Mrs. Schoof was as loving and kind a teacher that I've ever known. Miss Pratt was firm and demanding, but inspired within me a love of literature, which has stayed with me throughout my life. I've had so many teachers who are rainbows in the clouds.
As we begin this school year, I encourage each of our teachers and support professionals to find opportunities to be rainbows in the clouds for students. You are in a unique position to inspire, build, encourage, and lift young people. Please try to recognize those children whose lives may be storm-ravaged and then become a rainbow in their cloud.
I want to thank each of you for your commitment to educating young people. The Weber School District is filled with caring adults who are rainbows in the clouds for our students. You make a difference with each word of encouragement and expression of hope.
SCHOOL SAFETY PROCEDURES
As a result of the Sandy Hook shooting that occurred on December 14, 2012, many school districts across the nation have examined the safety procedures in their schools. In Weber School District, our first priority is to insure the safety and wellbeing of our students and employees. We have taken a deliberate, thoughtful approach on how best to accomplish this. We made a determination to research and use best practice as we make modifications to our current safety policies. Recognizing that law enforcement is in the best position to give input on current best safety protocol, we invited the Weber County Sheriff and Police Chiefs from each city in our district to meet in early January with district level administrators and begin dialog on how we can work with each other in a cohesive partnership for the safety of our schools.
As a group, we identified four areas of concern that we needed to address: 1) Building Security; 2) School Resource Officers; 3) Video Security System; and, 4) Offender Prevention. These committees have spent a vast amount of time researching best current practice that we can implement in our schools.
During the month of September, a district office administrator and a trained law enforcement officer will visit with the faculty and staff of all 44 schools and train them on a standard response protocol (SRP) that WSD has adopted called, “I Love You Guys.” This Standard Response Protocol has been widely recommended by law enforcement agencies across the nation as best practice and after careful research and study the Weber Board of Education has adopted this model as our response protocol. This SRP includes a uniform school/classroom response to various school incidents. This SRP is included within the school safety plan and includes four main steps: Lockout, Lockdown, Evacuate, and Shelter. For more information on the “I Love You Guys” program and why it was so named, go to:
Although the goal of Weber School District is to educate children and prepare them to become College & Career ready, we recognize that our highest priority is to ensure the safety of each of our 31,000+ students and all staff members.
Lex L. Puffer
Recently I attended a funeral of a person I held in high esteem. The tributes to this fine lady were well deserved and well spoken.Of all the remarkable achievements this individual had accomplished perhaps the most profound statement to me was a tribute made by her son when he stated that one of the most important things his mother had taught him and given to him was a love of reading.
He humbly declared what a gift that had been in his life and how extremely grateful he was to his mother for always taking the time to read a story to him. Surprisingly, he mentioned that even while in high school his mother would read to him and how he and his mother travelled the world, many time over, through the pages of books.
This past month a few of us at the District Office have had the pleasure of reading to various classes throughout our elementary schools. What joy it has been to see several classes crunch together to hear a story. What fun it has been to see their different expressions as the plots unfold. The discussions after were priceless as each child had their own interpretation of the tale.
In a world of instant media, video game overload and marketing madness, taking time to read to a child verges on the realm of almost being a sacred experience. Our future generations need these moments where the loud world of advertising and enticing messages are held at bay by page turning books that delight and inspire. When we do this we convey far more than the story, we let them know they matter and they are our investment in the future. To be able to expand their minds and take them to far away places is exhilarating. It is one of life’s sweetest pleasures, you have focused time together and you can teach a habit that can open countless doors throughout their lives.
Reading exercises our brains and improves concentration. Reading teaches children about the world around them. Through reading they learn new vocabulary skills, they develop more highly developed language all of which helps in their ability to write, imagine and understand. Harry Truman is credited with the quote “not every reader is a leader, but every leader must be a reader.”
This past summer one of my goals was to locate a book that was read to me by my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Smith. It was called “The Gentle House”. I remember coming in from recess and having her read this book to our class. She would laugh as she recited some of the antics of the family. I remember well how she delighted in turning the pages and watching our class as we went through the chapters. Fortunately, I did locate an old copy. Strangely enough as I have turned the pages it has brought a sense of warmth, comfort and tranquility, after all those years.
If you get the opportunity to read to a child I hope you seize the moment. There’s a reading genre for every person on the planet, classical literature, poetry, biographies, self-help guides, fiction, or non-fiction. I know there will be something out there to capture your curiosity and imagination. When you open a book, especially with a child near by, you have the power to impact their world in infinite ways and while doing so you will replenish your soul.
My Best To You Always,
Recently, the superintendency and a team from the district office visited each elementary school and read to students. This year’s book for upper elementary school children is titled, The Treasure, by Uri Shulevitz. It’s really a book about listening to your heart and pursuing your dreams. After reading the book at Uintah Elementary School, I asked a group of fourth grade children what they believed was the story’s message. One thoughtful young man concluded beautifully, “No dream is too big; no dreamer too small.” I love being taught by children!
Nothing is more vital to our work with young people than to help them explore their passions, develop their talents and pursue their dreams. I love being around children because they are so passionate about their dreams. I once read a poem posted on a teacher’s door that captures the essence of what education can be at its very best—full of infinite possibilities, imagination, and dreams. The poem boldly says to students that no matter where you’ve come from, who you’ve been, or what your circumstances are, when you enter this classroom everything is possible. Written by Jeff Moss, the poem is called, “On the Other Side of the Door.” I’ll quote a few verses,
On the other side of the door
I don’t have to go alone.
If you come, too, we can sail tall ships
And fly where the wind has flown.
We’ll find what we’re looking for
Because everything can happen
On the other side of the door.
The world has been inspired by one young Pakistani girl, Malala, who was shot last year by the Taliban for her determined efforts to defend girls’ rights to an education. Malala survived the attack and refuses to let her dreams be silenced. Rather, she has become an inspiration to men, women and children around the world. On July 12, 2013, Malala’s sixteenth birthday, she spoke at the United Nations to call for worldwide access to education. It was her first public speech since the attack. She said, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.” Malala is helping girls comprehend their own dreams of learning and gaining an education. One Pakistani girl said, “Malala has made me realize that there is no limit to my opportunities.” Malala embodies what that insightful fourth grade Uintah student observed, “No dream is too big; no dreamer too small.”
For all of us who are privileged to work with young people every day, we must never forget to nurture their dreams and ambitions. More important than test scores, helping children achieve their fullest potential is our greatest opportunity. I appreciate each of your efforts to make young dreams become reality.