Originally created 02/13/98

School getting funds to improve reading



ATLANTA -- North Columbia Elementary School in Appling was among eight new sites the Georgia Board of Education approved Thursday for an experimental program aimed at dramatically improving elementary school reading.

The board approved $160,000 in second-year funding during the 1998-99 school year for eight "Reading First" schools, including Eli Whitney Elementary School in Chatham County, and $240,000 for eight new sites, which include North Columbia, Cleveland Road Elementary School in Clarke County, and Todd-Grant Elementary School in McIntosh County.

The state is using federal funds for the initial sites.

However, Gov. Zell Miller has asked lawmakers to approve $9 million for fiscal 1999, which begins July 1, to further expand "Reading First," and $10 million for after-school programs that will focus on improving reading achievement.

"We're hoping this is seed money for a long-term commitment to reading," said Board of Education Chairman Johnny Isakson. "We are on the cusp of an initiative that will do more to lower the dropout rate than anything else we'll do."

State Superintendent Linda Schrenko initiated "Reading First" last year, beginning a major push to focus on improving reading skills in elementary schools.

Schools in the program make reading skills the top priority and stress reading throughout the curriculum.

State education officials say children who are not reading on grade level by the third grade are more likely to fall behind in school and eventually drop out.

While it's too early to compare reading skills in the first "Reading First" schools with those at other campuses, a preliminary Education Department assessment found nearly a 50 percent decline in the rate students sent to their principal for discipline and a 40 percent drop in referrals to special education classes for slow learners.

The board also is spending up to $100,000 to produce an eight-to-10-hour video to train teachers in reading.

Ms. Schrenko said all teachers in "Reading First" schools will undergo reading training.

"By producing the video, we will be able to spread our training a little farther, a little faster," the superintendent said.

"We don't have a day to waste in terms of improving reading," Mr. Isakson added.