Anyone who’s ever figured a student’s reading skills are the responsibility of the English teacher would be pleasantly surprised within the halls of Columbia City High School.
Students here get a healthy dose of that first member of the Three R’s no matter whose class they’re in.
Teachers and administrators at Whitley County Consolidated Schools have been boosting instruction in reading, even in subjects that involve using test tubes, a slide rule or studying the Civil War.
At Monday night’s meeting of the WCCS board, Columbia City High School Assistant Principal Chris Lagoni explained the school’s focus on reading skills in all subjects.
“It’s part of our overall school improvement program,” said Lagoni. “It’s not something new, we’ve been working on it for several years.
According to Lagoni, the State of Indiana requires school districts to write a School Improvement Plan each year.
“The plan was written last year for implementation this year,” Lagoni said.
Lagoni explained the plan as “trying to use data to improve instruction and learning.”
The reading program is part of the overall plan’s three-pronged team approach which includes a problem-solving team, a literacy team and a 21st-Century skills team.
The literacy team, headed by CCHS teacher Melissa Wilhelm, is responsible for the increased focus on reading.
“Reading encompasses every content area, so we’re doing a paradigm shift,” said Lagoni at the Monday night meeting. “We’re in the baby steps of a journey.”
According to Lagoni, increased focus on reading shows dividends.
“The majority of the students at the high school are reading at or above a high school level,” he said. “We have about 200 students reading above a high school level.”
The program becomes most important for students who fall well below the high school or college level in reading.
“This is a challenge, so I have an investment in it as part of my job,” said Karen Jagger, Special Education department head and administrative intern.
“Every content area needs students to be able to analyze and comprehend the text of the subject they’re studying.” Lagoni said. “From that perspective, all teachers have a buy-in. They want the students to be able to analyze what they’re trying to teach.”
Working on a pupil’s communication skills under this program isn’t designed to take time away from a shop teacher building up that student’s skills with a band saw.
“We’re not asking a chemistry teacher to teach phonics,” he said. “They just need to be able to understand the reading level of the student so they can know how to help them comprehend the material.”
WCCS board president Don Armstrong, a former teacher, gave the presenters of the program a hearty thumbs-up Monday night.
“This is exciting,” Armstrong said. “You have your work cut out for you. Those are some exciting goals.”
Social Studies Department Head Kristin Rentschler lauded the program and said she added public speaking to the list of language skills important to students regardless of subject.
“What I want from my students is for them to be prepared for the next step,” Rentschler said.
“It’s great if they can read well, but I want them to be able to communicate what they’ve read. The fact that the kids need reading and writing is a necessity.
“But kids need to be able to respond to a question and, taking what they’ve read, sound educated.”
Rentschler teaches two advanced placement courses.
One assignment she gives involves providing a reading exercise, followed by two essays required in 55 minutes.
“This gives them a chance to read, then put their thoughts clearly down on paper,” she said. “They need to be able to process the question and put out an essay quickly.”
The goal — preparing the students for life after the classroom.
“If they can’t communicate well, they’re not going to be successful at their jobs,” she said.
In other business, the board:
•Was lead in the Pledge of Allegiance by Northern Heights Elementary School 4th-grader Mariah Schaefer.
•Heard school improvement goals and plans from Jan Boylen, Indian Springs Middle School and Gregg Goewert, Columbia City High School.
•Approved field trips to the Columbia Scholastic Press Conference in New York City for the yearbook students and the Future Farmers of America members to Southern Indiana.
•Accepted monetary donations from Tri-Kappa, Starlight Instruments, LLC, Target, Robert Lotter, J & K Communications, Old Settler’s Association, CCHS football boosters, Star Tire & Automotive, Nationwide Textbook Co. and Advantage Cartridge Co. Also accepted school supplies from Parkview Whitley Hospital as well as equipment for the boys and girls soccer teams and the volleyball team from their respective booster clubs.
•Approved construction documents for the upcoming Eagle Tech Academy project which is on-going at the former Marshall Middle School. The academy will occupy more than 25,000 square feet of the building. If the $1.96 million project continues as planned, school officials expect the academy to be occupied by July, 2011.