Western receives state grant to improve literacy education

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University and the Asheville City Schools have received a grant of $283,584 for a project designed to improve reading instruction in secondary schools by increasing the number of middle and high school teachers who have the necessary skills to help their students become proficient readers.

Faculty members from Western’s College of Education and Allied Professions will work with literacy coaches from the Asheville school system to provide support for 20 language arts, science and social studies teachers at the middle and high school levels through the program, called Connected Coaching. Faculty from Western’s College of Arts and Sciences also will provide support.

The project is funded by a grant awarded through the University of North Carolina Division of University-School Programs and Center for School Leadership Development under the national No Child Left Behind Act.

Western is among eight UNC campuses awarded more than $1.6 million in NC QUEST (Quality Educators through Staff Development and Training across North Carolina) grants. The statewide program is designed to fund partnerships between UNC campuses and school systems with large populations of students in poverty. It will focus on preparing, training and recruiting highly qualified teachers, paraprofessionals and principals.

“While recent efforts to improve reading instruction have shown progress at the elementary level, sustained growth across the secondary grades has been much more difficult,” said David Strahan, Western’s Taft B. Botner Distinguished Professor in Elementary and Middle Grades Education. “To help address this challenge, this project will integrate approaches that have been most successful at the elementary level with content area coaching that has proven promising at the secondary level.”

The Connected Coaching project marks the second time Western has received grant funding through NC QUEST. More than $460,000 in grants enabled the university to partner with five Western North Carolina public school systems on a two-year project designed to broaden the knowledge and skills of teacher mentors and improve the intention rate of new teachers statewide. Findings from that study are currently being assessed.

Called Project SPACE (Supporting Pedagogical And Content Expertise), the program was an attempt to broaden the knowledge and skills of mentor teachers so they would become more helpful to the beginning teachers they coach, improving the chances those beginning teachers will succeed and stay in the profession.

“Connected Coaching and Project SPACE are two more examples of Western’s on-going efforts to help ensure that the children of our region have qualified, committed teachers in all areas of the curriculum,” said Michael Dougherty, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions. “Literacy skills are at the core of student achievement.”

Grants were awarded based on evaluations by a national review panel.

“We are convinced, based on the first two years of NC QUEST projects, that the partnerships will have the opportunity to significantly improve teacher and principal quality in our state,” said Richard Thompson, UNC system vice president for University-School Programs.

For more information about Western’s Connected Coaching or any of the university’s initiatives to support the profession of teaching, contact the College of Education and Allied Professions at (828) 227-7311.