Leading the way

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 8, 2004

Students in Shunda Fleeton’s kindergarten class at Southside Primary were so focused on correctly pronouncing the letters P and M Thursday that they barely paid attention to the man in the dark suit sitting at their table.

That man, State Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton, was there to watch the Alabama Reading First Initiative program in action.

The State Superintendent seemed impressed that 5- and 6-year-olds from a high poverty area were on the verge of reading after only two months of school.

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“When I see this school, with 97 percent of the students on reduced lunch, but with high reading levels, it shows that children from any background in Alabama can succeed,” Morton said.

Students at Southside Primary are not only succeeding, they are setting the benchmark for all other Alabama Reading Initiative schools in the state.

Last year, Southside Primary ranked in the top two percent of schools in ARI and was the number one school in the Alabama Reading First Initiative.

“It’s a real testimony that other schools are coming here to see how (Southside Primary) is doing it,” Morton said.

Southside Primary’s new principal, Melanie Wright, attributes the school’s success to a team effort from the teachers, reading coaches, parents, and school administration.

“We have exceptional instruction every day,” she said.

The principal added that “words cannot describe” what it meant for her and her staff to have the State Superintendent stop by for a tour.

Using the Alabama Reading First Initiative program, students in kindergarten through second-grade spend two hours of uninterrupted reading instruction each day.

Each classroom begins their day

by working on reading together as a group. They then divide into smaller groups with students working on separate reading projects, such as using the computer, practice their writing, listening to recordings or reading out loud.

“I’m proud of the strong leadership here that had the vision to move forward,” said Wayne May, Superintendent of Dallas County Schools. “Professional development is the key.”

Another guest to the school Thursday was Dr. Katherine Mitchell, Assistant State Superintendent for Reading.

Mitchell, who established Alabama Reading First Initiative professional development workshops at Southside Primary over the summer, said she plans to increase the number of schools in the statewide program from 74 to 275 within two years.

“It only takes one example of a high poverty school to have 86 percent of their students reach the benchmark to show the rest of the country that this program works,” Mitchell said. “When I brought the U.S. Department of Education here this summer, they told me it was the most impressive teacher training they had ever seen.”

During a special program for students after Morton’s tour, the state superintendent told the young children that by the time they graduate from high school and go on to college, they should remember that what they learned at Southside Primary helped them achieve that goal.