3 districts put focus on reading

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

Three school districts in Osage County — Pawhuska, Bowring and Wynona — were named earlier this year to receive significant amounts of grant money to help pay for teacher training and curriculum improvements to encourage better student reading performance. The funding awards were part of a distribution that education leaders called the Oklahoma Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy grants.

Oklahoma parceled out about $20 million to school districts to help improve the literacy skills of children and youth from birth to twelfth grade. With the help of the Osage County Interlocal Cooperative, the Pawhuska, Wynona and Bowring school districts were selected to receive more than $1.6 million of the total.

Pawhuska School District’s announced grant amount was about $742,000. The district had 729 students at the end of the last school year.

The Wynona School District said its adjusted grant amount is $525,000, and the state Department of Education quoted Bowring’s grant amount as approximately $360,000.

Wynona’s student population is anticipated to be about 110-115 for the upcoming school year.

Bowring, which is a prekindergarten to eighth-grade school, has about 75 students.

With the 2018-19 school year fast approaching, the three districts are making preparations to help young readers.

Byron Cowan, who has served as an elementary school principal in the Pawhuska district, said the district will be investing in both professional development for teachers and curriculum changes.

For example, Pawhuska Public Schools will be reaching out to provide professional development for staff members at Wah-Zha-Zhi Early Learning Academy sites and area Head Start sites that provide services to preschool children. Cowan cited the desire of Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear for children in the Osage Nation learning academies to meet high expectations for early development.

Cowan said that Kim Hester, the former principal at Indian Camp Elementary School, is leading the Pawhuska district’s grant implementation. While the heaviest focus of the grant activity is on the lower grades, there will be efforts to help youth in the high school grades as well, Cowan said. He mentioned a concern the district has about the reading skills of some high school students, and a related concern about ACT scores.

Additionally, the Pawhuska district still faces challenges when it comes to preparing some of its pupils to meet third-grade reading proficiency requirements and qualifying them to move on to the fourth grade, Cowan said.

Shelly Shulanberger, superintendent of Wynona Public School, said her district has been able to use grant funds to hire a reading specialist and a reading interventionist. Wynona has also purchased a new library materials circulation system, and it has invested in technology items for individual use.

“It’s a very big deal,” Shulanberger said. “We’re extremely excited.”

Shulanberger is excited enough, in fact, that Wynona Public School decided against going to a four-day school week so that it could receive the grant money.

“We are struggling with reading across the district,” Shulanberger said, explaining that the grant marks a key opportunity to make a leap forward in academic achievement. The struggle hasn’t been so bad that students have been held back a grade, but it has been a challenge nonetheless, she said.

Wynona Public School, which had inquired of its local community about moving to a four-day instructional week for 2018-19, scrapped the schedule alteration when it learned the state of Oklahoma would require it to stick with a five-day week to receive the reading-grant money.

Shulanberger said the community has been very understanding about the change, clearly feeling that a half-million dollars of state support for reading instruction will be much more important.

Bowring Public Schools superintendent Nicole Hinkle, who noted her district will have more than $100,000 of its grant total for the upcoming academic year, said the grant has made it possible to hire a full-time reading specialist to help at-risk students who aren’t reading at grade level.

The district has also been able to hire a one-fifth-time library-media specialist to work this summer on updating the library, to include adding new books. That person will continue to provide Bowring with assistance during the 2018-19 school year, giving advice about new library materials and about attracting children to the library, Hinkle said.

Additionally, Bowring Public Schools will be reaching out into its surrounding community to help children in the 0-5 age range, Hinkle said. She explained that the school district is trying to get the word out about its reading-program enrichments.