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Reading program worth a try

The Forest Grove School District has not had a systematic reading program for many years...

Being a former reading and special education teacher in the Forest Grove School District (1966 to 1999), I know how difficult teaching reading can be without adequate, research-based reading materials.

I have taught at Central, Dilley, Gales Creek, Joseph Gale Elementary schools; at Tom McCall Middle School, and at Lincoln Junior High and Neil Armstrong Junior High Schools. I earned a doctor of education in reading education from the University of Northern Colorado.

In response to the Aug. 31 letter by Joyce Sauber, I want to say that I am in support of the Forest Grove School District spending about $500,000 to adopt the Reading Street and Calle de la Lectura basal K-6 reading programs.

I taught at Gales Creek for four years, two years in a row two separate times. I highly respect Joyce as a volunteer and supporter of Gales Creek Elementary school. I also highly respect Sue Yennello, the librarian assistant (Media Technology staff person) who ended up running the library when the librarians were cut from the budget quite a few years ago. Both Joyce and Sue are passionate about not closing Gales Creek Elementary School and the library program there. I am saddened that had to occur. I am glad, however, that Sue was not laid off but rather transferred to another school and that her passion and skills will still be offered to students.

I believe reading is the foundational skill for all of the other basic skills and learning that skill as early as possible creates more confident and competent learners as they progress through any educational school system.

The FGSD has not had a systematic reading program for many years that has a standard way of teaching reading within and across the elementary schools. Many of the students in the elementary schools transfer between schools and need a consistent program when they transfer, and the students that stay within one school need a consistent program as they progress from grade to grade.

After studying the student materials and teaching guides that accompany the newly adopted program and reviewing the research articles related to those programs, I am convinced that the materials were written so that the beginning reader (in kindergarten, first and second grade) will be taught the essential skills necessary to learn to read; and that those skills will be built upon in grades three through six.

Now the primary task, as I see it, is for the district staff and principals to provide the training, supervision and support necessary to make sure that all of the components are being implemented well - that all students are learning systematically and progressing with mastery.

I do not agree with Joyce, however, that FGSD is on track to fail our students.

On the contrary, I believe that the school board made a wise and very difficult decision to fund one of (if not the most) important program - reading education, that the reading adoption and the student and teacher materials will help more students graduate from Forest Grove High School, pass written exams required by most trade schools and the State of Oregon - for plumbers, electricians, and by four-year and graduate degree programs.

Attorneys, accountants, doctors, teachers and other professionals all have to pass rigorous licensing exams. Most of us want to pass - as teenagers and, later, as older adults - the driver's license exam. It is worth noting that a standard set of knowledge and competency is required to pass these exams, more than one exam that tests the same content but with differently worded questions are available if a candidate can't pass the exam the first time.

The person taking the exam can retake it as many times as needed to be able to demonstrate competency and mastery - the goal for our in all content areas, particularly the basic and foundational skill of reading.

Even though only 113 students attended Gales Creek during the 2010-11 school year and a little less than half of them were open enrollment students from other elementary attendance boundaries, I am assured that the teachers in other schools will also accept them with open arms and compassionate skillful teaching.

Very hard choices had to be made on the school board, based upon budget constraints and the cost of operating a very small school.

- Dale Feik lives in Forest Grove.