Mere days elapsed between the day the school board approved the purchase of Fountas and Pinnell reading materials and the day those materials began to arrive. Assistant Superintendent Dawn Hagness didn’t know where to store the nearly 40 pallets carrying just the first installment of materials meant for kindergarten through third grade classrooms throughout the district.
It had taken some work to get to that point.
The last major purchase of textbooks and materials Humboldt County School District (HCSD) made happened in 2002. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) dominated education standards. When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) took effect in 2009, new standards and approaches followed.
Literacy practices and the expected level of challenge changed as well, but the materials provided by the school district to the teachers hadn’t changed in 15 years.
Throughout the district, K-3 teachers used different texts, cobbling piecemeal lessons together to the best of their ability, using whatever materials they could find. Brand new teachers and long-term substitutes struggled to create lessons from scratch that met students’ differing reading levels.
In 2015, the Nevada Department of Education’s (NDE) Read By Grade Three Act took effect, bringing with it a new level of expectation. Students who couldn’t demonstrate their ability to meet state standards in reading by the end of third grade wouldn’t progress to fourth grade. According to Hagness, 48 percent of HCSD third graders didn’t meet state reading standards, and 37 percent of those students were English Language Learners. The district had to do something.
After some exploration into ESSA-approved programs, Hagness and her team of learning strategists and school administrators decided that Fountas and Pinnell materials best met district needs. The materials provided a framework based on evidence-based best teaching practices as well as challenging authentic “real life” texts that students needed to support a love of reading.
All HCSD K-3 teachers would have access to the same range of materials and supports for various reading levels, including English Language Learners and advanced readers.
All that remained was convincing the school board of the value of the purchase.
The conversation at the Sept. 26 school board meeting lasted over an hour. Hagness and school administrators answered board members concerns about cost, timing and increased teacher work load. Getting to know the new materials and developing new lessons would take time and teachers already struggled to adjust to established programs like Eureka Math.
Ultimately, though, necessity won out. Teachers couldn’t continue to struggle through with what they could find, and NDE’s expectations for literacy would stand whether the district purchased the materials or not. Above all, Hagness said, the students deserved the best opportunity that the district could offer. The board unanimously approved the $422,000 purchase.
Hagness submitted the order the next day, expecting the materials to arrive in two to four weeks. Less than one week later, the first shipment arrived including all of the kindergarten materials and part of the first grade stock.
At Winnemucca Grammar, the school’s portion of the new materials filled the gymnasium stage, and more would arrive in the coming weeks. According to principal Jonathan Reynolds, the teachers couldn’t wait to dig in.