As if rapidly switching to virtual learning wasn’t challenging enough, last March, we were also making plans at the same time to implement two new literacy programs in our network. Beginning last winter, a dedicated team of teachers, school leaders, and Central Office administrators met regularly to study a number of highly-recommended and rigorous programs available in the marketplace and to plan the future of English and Language Arts (ELA) instruction across our 15 Independence Mission Schools.

The work of our “Literacy Steering Committee,” throughout the challenging periods of winter and spring 2020, centered on selecting new ELA curriculum programs for the network. The Committee recognized a need to choose programs that were known for their quality, richness, and their alignment with the standards and modern research. In addition, the Committee was committed to making selections that would allow us to streamline our work in professional development, collaboration, and resource-distribution, and to gain other efficiencies.

As you may know, we continue to partner with SchoolKit as our main professional development and curriculum implementation support team. SchoolKit helped us navigate several protocols for program selection and to ground ourselves in the important research. As you may also know, our Literacy Steering Committee chose two outstanding programs that have been used widely in the U.S. to help students make strong gains in reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills: EL Education (for Kindergarten to Grade 8) and CKLA (for Pre-Kindergarten). These programs, the Committee felt, would best prepare our students for success in high school and beyond.

Over the spring and summer of 2020, members of the Central Office team, including Dan Tahaney (Director of Literacy) and Dr. Joshua Taton (Deputy Chief of Curriculum and Instruction), collaborated with SchoolKit to develop an immersive and structured pathway of professional learning to prepare teachers to implement the new ELA curriculum programs this school year. Building on the rollout sessions held across schools in May 2020, two additional “Literacy Instructional Leadership Institutes” were held—one at the beginning of summer and another at the end—to provide teachers and leaders with structured opportunities to engage deeply with these new programs.

We needed to hold these “Institutes” virtually, of course. And we are so pleased that SchoolKit partnered with us to develop sessions that were engaging, interactive, and allowed for first-hand experiences on how the programs are to be used effectively. All through Zoom!

With the decision to start this school year in a fully-virtual instructional model, we were challenged yet again: we would need to adapt the new ELA programs to a distance-learning environment. Fortunately, we have received much support from SchoolKit and our Central Office teammates in doing so. EL Education even developed what they are calling the “EL Flex Curriculum,” which is a set of tools and resources to bridge the standard program with tools for navigating the program online.

Implementing any new program is a multi-year effort, just as we have seen with Eureka Math. We are excited for what we have learned and look forward to new learning on the horizon.

Our teachers have certainly risen to the occasion, and they have committed to deep participation in new learning and new literacy teaching strategies, as well as meeting with students one-on-one to support their personalized growth. In addition, teachers are using other high-quality educational technology tools, to support their work this year and to help enliven and structure learning within a virtual setting.

We are very proud of our teachers and their flexibility, dedication, and persistence in implementing the new EL Education and CKLA programs. This is a challenging time and change is never easy. We are all greatly looking forward to resuming in-person instruction, when deemed safe. Not only will we be strengthening our learning communities, but by coming together, we will continue to realize the potential of our ELA programs—as we aim to accelerate learning and prepare all of our students for high levels of literacy success!