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Hamilton County Schools Find Success with OUR & EL Education

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Open Up Resources

January 13, 2023

Hamilton County Schools Find Success with OUR & EL Education

In a time of uncertainty prompted by a global pandemic, one Tennessee school district decided to implement a new ELA curriculum to provide their teachers with the resources to build a strong literary foundation in their students – one that would set the path for educational success.

In the video featured above, you can learn more about how the partnership between Hamilton County Schools, Open Up Resources (OUR) and EL Education led to positive results for their students and teachers.

OUR & EL Education partner with school districts around the country to provide high-quality curriculum, along with proven professional learning and coaching, and improvement science techniques. 

Dr. Yvette Stewart, Director Elementary Teaching and Learning at Hamilton County Schools, explained that Hamilton County is extremely diverse. “There are far parts of Hamilton County that are in the mountains, very rural, distinctly different than the downtown areas. Seventy percent of the students in Hamilton county are either African American, economically disadvantaged, English as a second language, or exceptional education. So it really means that all has to mean all,” she said. 

They decided to implement EL Education K-5 Language Arts after the pandemic hit.

“In a year of lots of change, lots of opportunities to pull back and not do some of the things you intended to do before the pandemic, we decided the time is now. It was important for us to give our kids the resources they needed and we just had to put in the right supports to do that,” explained Stewart. 

The growth in the county was noticed quickly, she explained: “Within one year of implementing EL, we’ve seen progressive, steady, continuous growth in our students in reading in kindergarten through 5th grade, but most importantly we’ve seen just a true spike in the joy of learning.” 

Principals of schools in Hamilton County shared their experiences with teachers and students after implementing EL Education. Dr. Lindsay Starnes, Principal at Clifton Hills Elementary School, said she saw a change in attitudes about reading from the students. 

“When I became principal, students weren’t excited about reading, they weren’t excited about literacy, and just to see the drastic change now of how kids feel about reading, it’s just a night and day difference.”

She also shared notable improvements for her school, “We once were one of the lowest performing schools in the state. Two years into implementation, we exited the priority list because our students made so much growth on their end-of-year testing. That was a huge accomplishment that we celebrated,” Starnes said. 

Nikki Bailey, Principal at Lookout Valley Elementary School said she too saw a notable difference in the students’ learning. She explained, “To see the shift back to the best practices behind the science of reading is exciting. Hearing kids talk about where to chunk a syllable on a word, hearing them discuss vowel patterns and pay attention to words – I’ve seen so much more than just rote memorization of spelling lists that I was seeing before.”

She also cited the additional support for teachers, who are able to collaborate with other teachers across the district. Bailey added, “The EL Facebook groups we have discovered to be amazing for our solo teachers so it’s not just Hamilton County. It’s opened up a community of collaboration across the country.”

Lindsey Hagan, Principal at Red Bank Elementary School noted how her teachers have responded to the three dimensions of student achievement in the EL Education curriculum: Mastery of Knowledge, High-Quality Student Work, and Character. “I often hear teachers talk about one component of the three dimensions of student achievement,” she said. “They are really passionate about tracking mastery. They are so excited about the character their kids are building. They are thrilled with the high quality work they’re getting. But when the three things come together, they directly impact one another and that really is what builds out student achievement. And I think that’s what we’re seeing here.” 

Elementary school teachers in Hamilton County shared their experiences with the curriculum, and how they have seen their students respond to EL Education. Bethany Gates, 4th Grade Teacher at Clifton Hills Elementary School said, “As they [students] are becoming experts they are taking ownership of their learning which is leading them to want to learn more or they are applying it in new ways.” 

Justin Payne, 1st Grade Teacher at Lookout Valley Elementary School mentioned the sense of accomplishment his students experience when they finish a unit, “They see the learning, they’re researching, they’re charting in their little note catchers, then they’re taking that note catcher and they are turning it into paragraphs. I don’t think they realize what they are doing, until the finished thing is like – you just wrote this paper! YOU did it!” he said.

Kiersten Wilkens, 5th Grade Teacher at Red Bank Elementary School shared how she’s seen the curriculum impact the students in their day-to-day speech. She said, “I’ve seen the kids become more passionate in their conversation, in their discussions with one another and with myself. We really practice that language on how to be a good, effective listener and give good feedback and critique, and the EL curriculum builds that right in which is what we want to see in everyday conversation.”

The adoption and implementation of this curriculum in Hamilton County is a coordinated, joint effort between the school district, Open Up Resources and EL Education. 

Tanisha Frazier, Director, District Partnerships EL Education explained, “It’s truly a partnership on the district level, I work alongside Dr. Stewart and we have strategic planning meetings and really talk about the impact of the work we’re doing and make adjustments. We have a work plan, so it’s kind of like a school improvement plan, where we really are being intentional about the data we’re collecting, and really looking for impact.” 

Education coaches from Hamilton County attest to the support they received throughout the implementation. 

Melanie Atchley, Literacy Coach at Battle Academy said, “They’ve been side-by-side with us the whole time, they didn’t drop the curriculum in our lap and hit the road. It’s a relationship that we are learning together.” 

Kerry Moore, Instructional Coach at Clifton Elementary School added, “They gave very kind, specific, helpful feedback that our teachers were able to respond to because it wasn’t just ‘here’s what the book says’ it’s, here’s your students that are in front of you, so these are the types of moves you should make.” 

Overall, the successful results seen by Hamilton County’s implementation of the curriculum is a testament to the dedicated educators in the school district, according to Morgan Tomasello, Senior Coach at EL Education.

“The change that I’ve seen in Hamilton County Schools is pretty profound,” she said. “It’s truly evident that the schools and the very passionate people that are in this district have moved past the simple, first implementation stage and are now focusing all their instruction and their professional development on components of EL that empower students and teachers to contribute to society.”

Contact us to learn more about how EL Education K-8 Language Arts can benefit your school district.