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Brent Conway has become a voice and advocate for instructional leaders who are shifting classroom instruction to the science of reading. His experience with curricula and his wealth of knowledge about the best practices for reading instruction has positively impacted instruction throughout his school district and in districts throughout the state of Massachusetts. Brent sat down with me for a short interview, sharing his experience with implementing and using the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curriculum in his school district.

Share a little bit about your school district and your shift to implementing instruction aligned to the Science of Reading. 

Pentucket Regional School District is a small school district with 2500 students in PK-Grade 12 from three small towns in the north eastern corner of Massachusetts. Students from West Newbury, Groveland and Merrimac MA attend elementary schools in their home towns through grade 6, then join up on the secondary campus from grades 7-12. In 2022 we will open a new Middle-High School.

In 2018 Dr. Justin Bartholomew was named Superintendent and I joined him as the Assistant Superintendent. 

The district had been seeing a decline in student performance in literacy and math for a few years and there had not been a coordinated approach to curriculum in the elementary schools from the three towns. We began with professional development on the 5 essential components of literacy, using Scarborough’s rope to anchor our professional learning of literacy instruction and how to do plan and teach those in a tiered manner. We also implemented an updated DIBELS assessment and began using data meetings to review the screening assessments three times in the year to learn how the predictive measures of reading proficiency guide our instruction and intervention.

In 2019, based on the performance data and at the recommendation of our literacy specialists, we implemented Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curriculum in PreK-Grade 2 and further advanced our knowledge and use of data, moving away from the use of leveled assessments and focused our professional development on writing instruction at K-Grade 6. We also began the process of developing a comprehensive literacy plan.

This year, amidst the reopening of schools in a hybrid model and managing the pandemic, we were accepted into the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Early Literacy Grant program. This has afforded a large team of educators from all schools in the district the opportunity to learn from such experts as Dr. David Kilpatrick and Dr. Melissa Orkin as we learn about evidenced based practices grounded in the science about how we learn to read. We are continuing our journey, expanding our professional capacity and look forward to the positive results.

How did you learn about Heggerty Phonemic Awareness?

We recognized from our DIBELS data that our students’ early phonological skills demonstrated some deficits. Beth Villani, one of our Reading Specialists, brought the Heggerty Curriculum to our attention and felt that it would complement Fundations, which we’re using for our phonics program. Our literacy team discussed it and moved ahead with the purchase and planning the professional development.

Why did you choose to include a professional development session for your teachers who were going to be implementing Heggerty?

We had done some professional development on the essential components of literacy prior to adopting Heggerty. However, we thought it was important that staff understood the purpose of teaching phonemic awareness to our emerging readers, especially with how it complemented our phonics curriculum. The professional development offered was the perfect balance of what teachers needed. It provided background on the importance of phonemic awareness and how it enhances a students early reading development along with an overview, explanation and demonstration of how to specifically use the Heggerty curriculum in short daily lessons.

How have you been able to measure growth or success with Heggerty in your schools?

Obviously our timing with implementation was interrupted by school closures with COVID. However, we were able to gather data from the fall of 2019 when we implemented and see the growth to the winter DIBELS assessment in 2020 just prior to schools closing. We were able to get our Kindergarten students to reach 93% at or above the at-risk score with the Phonemic Segmentation portion of the DIBELS assessment with just 5 months of use with Heggerty. In prior years we typically averaged 74% at that level by mid-year.

Can you share 2 or 3 words that come to mind when you think about Heggerty Phonemic Awareness?

Quick, fun and impactful.

A big thank you to Brent for taking the time for this interview! Interested in learning more? You can follow Brent Conway on Twitter.

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