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Willmar, Minn., school board adopts K-3 literacy plan

WILLMAR -- When school starts this fall, Willmar K-3 students will receive reading education from a new curriculum.

The Willmar School Board at its regular meeting Monday adopted the Willmar Public Schools Local Literacy Plan.

This plan includes using the McGraw Hill Reading Wonders curriculum in grades K-2 and the National Geographic Reach for Reading curriculum in grade 3. According to the plan, "a balanced literacy approach will be utilized to deliver reading instruction including read aloud, shared reading, small differentiated instruction, independent reading, word work and spelling, grammar and writing in response to text and the writing process."

Additionally, the plan calls for 90 to 120 minutes of classroom literacy instruction each day for all students in grades K-3.

The plan was created in accordance with the Minnesota Department of Education's Reading Well by 3rd Grade initiative that requires each local school district to create a local literacy plan that will have all students reading proficiently by the time they finish third grade.

While Willmar's plan also mentions what is being done to encourage literacy on an early childhood level, the naming of the plan as a K-3 literacy plan concerned some board members.

"As a district, we're trying to create that unity and have our early childhood programs feel like they're included in the district," board member Linda Mathiasen said. "We have to be more intentional with making early childhood a noticeable part of the school district."

Pam Harrington, director of business and finance for the district, said that the naming of the plan came from the Minnesota Department of Education's requirements of what has to be included in the plan and that the plan could be referred to as a pre-K-3 program on the district's website.

Board member Mike Carlson said it was important that the plan shows that the district starts engaging its students in the early childhood years.

According to the plan, district-level early childhood and head start programs currently use the Creative Curriculum, which has literacy lessons included within "all aspects of the half-day programming." This includes using SMART Boards to engage students and providing a reading center where books are rotated every couple of weeks.

As a final component of the Reading Well by 3rd Grade initiative, Willmar Public Schools is set to receive approximately $200,000 for doing well with literacy in the 2012-13 school year.

"That money can be used across all grade levels, not just in the grades the plan covers," Harrington said. "We would likely use the money to buy new textbooks or more books for reading centers or other programs to continue increasing our literacy."

Mathiasen noted that she liked to see the school receiving money for doing well, when it usually seems like the district receives money for performing poorly on tests.

"Qualifying for this money is a wonderful thing for our district," Harrington added.

Where the money will be used will be determined at a later date.