But this isn't the first time teachers have had to adjust to new methods. Various reading programs have come and gone over the years as educational trends have changed, but teachers say this feels different. Superintendent Wartgow has heard that DPS had instituted new programs in the past and then never followed through with district oversight. "I worried, 'Is this just going to be seen as the program of the day?'" he recalls. "But I believe that there is strong district support for this, and I've tried to let people know that we're sticking with this."
An outside consultant whom the district hired for $24,000 to evaluate the literacy program has just completed a writeup containing her findings on the first semester. Because the consultant has not yet presented her report to the board of education, the district was unable to release her written findings. But Cordova says it shows that the biggest problem is that teachers don't understand the big picture behind the new literacy push.
However, the findings do show that, for the most part, implementation has been smooth, minus some logistical problems such as schools not receiving books and magazines for their class libraries on time. "In some schools, 500 books were ordered but only 300 have come in; we're working with the vendor to determine why," Wissink says.
Despite concerns about the program, Wissink believes teachers are committed to resolving the kinks and boosting student literacy. "I do think this is a positive step. The theory behind it is wonderful, but how it's being implemented differs at each school. That's part of the learning process, and it will take a little longer at some schools than at others."
Patterson-Smith is confident that Greenwood Elementary will get to where it needs to be; she says the staff took Mentor Hay's comments to heart. "I feel that when she comes back, she'll be astonished at how we're changing."
Each morning, Rachel Rosenberg writes her students a letter detailing what to expect during the day's literacy block. Kids at Harrington Elementary meet with her briefly before heading to their "specials" -- art, music and computer classes -- so when they return to her room at ten, they're ready to read and write.
This morning, they're going to listen to P. Diddy's rendition of the Walter Dean Myers poem "Harlem" for the third time -- a tough piece of literature for fourth-graders, but one made easier with careful dissection.
As the ten girls and seven boys gather around her on the floor, Rosenberg admits she didn't know P. Diddy, Puff Daddy and Sean "Puffy" Combs were one and the same; in fact, she thought this P. Diddy character was dead. The kids find that hilarious. "You're thinking of Tupac and Biggie," one boy explains.
Rosenberg chuckles at herself and repeats what she told her kids the day before: As they read the poem, they should draw inferences to help them decipher the meaning. Doing so, she says, requires looking to the text for clues. If they don't understand one line, they might understand another that will help them figure it out. She tells them to jot down questions that occur to them as they listen to the tape. "Why?" she asks. "If you ask questions, it brings more pictures to your mind," one girl offers.
Right, Rosenberg says; she reminds the class that before she knew what collard greens were, she couldn't form a mental picture of that line in the poem (her students had to fill her in).
The girl closest to the tape recorder presses "play." They took to the road in Waycross, Georgia/Skipped over the tracks in East St. Louis.
It's snowing outside, and a lamp in the corner of the reading circle provides the only light. There's no desk in the room, and the chalkboard and walls are covered with student work and large pieces of paper bearing Rosenberg's tips from previous lessons. Two teachers and one literacy coach from Greenwood Elementary School are here to watch how Rosenberg conducts her literacy session. Greenwood's principal was supposed to come but called in sick; however, the principal from Archuleta Elementary, another new Montbello school, has come, and so have three of his teachers and two literacy coaches. Monica Dilts, the literacy specialist who organized this visit at Mentor Hay's urging, is also present.
Rosenberg's students, who are sitting cross-legged on a well-worn rug at the front of the room, follow along as P. Diddy reads. Took the bus from Holly Springs/Hitched a ride from Gee's Bend.