Participants and organizers of the May 22 literacy roundtable gather for a photo after the event.
Reminder Publishing photo by Laura Mason

SPRINGFIELD — During a May 22 literacy roundtable event at Edward P. Boland Elementary School in Springfield, local education leaders discussed projects across multiple school systems to improve early literacy in Western Massachusetts, including the state’s Literacy Launch initiative.

Hosted by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, the event featured 12 panelists from local schools and organizations as well as Massachusetts Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler.

Paul Belsito, executive director of the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation and organizer of the roundtable, opened the event by thanking staff at Boland Elementary and Springfield Public Schools for their part in hosting the event.

During the roundtable, each panelist briefly introduced themselves and highlighted their work to improve early literacy in the region.

One emphasized discussion during the event was the Western Massachusetts Literacy Collaborative, a collaboration of multiple local colleges and school departments to address literacy rates in the region.
Tyra Good, executive director of the Center for Equity in Urban Education at Elms College, emphasized the wide impact that literacy efforts can have on families and students as they move through life while Springfield Public Schools Director of Literacy, Elementary and Early Childhood Education Laura Mendes discussed the importance of evidence-based literacy instruction, coaching and diverse learning materials.

Likewise, Westfield Public Schools Director of Assessment and Accountability Christine Shea noted how early literacy is “a major equity gap” and talked about the work in Westfield to expand access to preschool, high-level educational materials and interventions.

Chicopee Public Schools Superintendent Marcus Ware discussed similar objectives, highlighting Chicopee’s work to not only focus on training teachers, but also those who work with teachers, such as paraprofessionals, through professional development.

At Holyoke Public Schools, Executive Director of Academics Rebecca Thompson noted that the department has worked to improve early literacy in both English and Spanish through different strategies.

Michael Moriarty, a member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, emphasized the importance of educating teachers on how to use curriculums, in addition to having strong curriculum itself, as well as involving parents in literacy education.

Also in attendance at the roundtable were Boland Elementary interventionist Lauren Bamford, Boland Elementary Literacy Specialist Sara Boissonneault and Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care Early Literacy Practice Specialist Jennifer Crandall.

Literacy Launch

Following discussion from the other panelists, Tutwiler and Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Director of Literacy and Humanities Katherine Tarca talked about Literacy Launch with Tarca giving a brief presentation on the state initiative and its goals moving forward.

While speaking, Tutwiler thanked everyone who attended and took part in the roundtable, emphasizing that improving early literacy impacted students’ academics as well as their overall lives.

“That is the why,” he said, stating that work like those completed by the panelists needs to continue in order to provide support to all students in the state.

With $30 million in funding proposed for the initiative’s first year, Literacy Launch will work to address the state’s literacy concerns, Tutwiler stated, explaining that less than 50% of grade 3 students in the state currently meet literacy expectations.

In her presentation, Tarca explained that Literacy Launch focuses on improving literacy rates for students age 3 to grade 3 in both reading and writing. Funding for the initiative will go toward providing supports such as access to professional development, teacher support networks, coaching, student interventions, high-quality teaching materials and a review of teacher programs every three and a half years rather than every seven years, she said.

In addition, Literacy Launch will have “targeted opportunities” such as Appleseeds, a curriculum offered by the state free of charge to districts, as well as specific grants to assist students.

Tarca later told Reminder Publishing that the initiative is designed for five years, pending the continued support of funding for the project.

The initiative is set to begin this year once its funding is approved.

lmason@thereminder.com | + posts